Vehicle Fatalities Increased In 2020 Despite The Pandemic

Vehicle Fatalities Increased In 2020 Despite The Pandemic
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Photo Credit: Daniel Fung/Shutterstock

You might think fewer motorists on the road in 2020 due to the pandemic would lead to fewer traffic deaths. But that�s not the case according to a new report from the National Safety Council which finds the opposite true and that traffic deaths were in fact up. In fact, the year to year jump in traffic deaths between 2019 and 2020 was the highest in the NSC�s 96 years of reporting data.

Highest Jump in Traffic Deaths in 96 Years

For the first time since 2007, NSC says its preliminary data shows that as many as 42,060 people are estimated to have died in motor vehicle crashes last year. That is an 8% increase over 2019 in a year where people drove significantly less frequently because of the pandemic. The preliminary estimated rate of death on the roads last year spiked 24% over the previous 12-month period, despite miles driven dropping 13%.

The NSC says the increase in the rate of death is the highest estimated year-over-year jump that the NSC has calculated since 1924 -- which is 96 years.

The NSC says its findings underscore the nation's persistent failure to prioritize safety on the roads, which became emptier but far more deadly.

Researchers also say an estimated 4.8 million additional roadway users were seriously injured in crashes in 2020 at an estimated cost to society of $474 billion. The non-profit safety advocate organization calls it an �alarming picture� and is urging President Joe Biden and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to commit to zero roadway deaths by 2050 � a call NSC and more than 1,500 other organizations and individuals made in January in a letter to the new administration.

"It is tragic that in the U.S., we took cars off the roads and didn't reap any safety benefits," said Lorraine M. Martin, president and CEO of the National Safety Council. "These data expose our lack of an effective roadway safety culture. It is past time to address roadway safety holistically and effectively, and NSC stands ready to assist all stakeholders, including the federal government."

The NSC says states also experienced dramatic swings in fatalities from year to year, according to the group�s preliminary data. Estimates indicate that only nine states saw a drop in deaths:

  • Alaska (-3%)
  • Delaware (-11%)
  • Hawaii (-20%)
  • Idaho (-7%)
  • Maine (-1%)
  • Nebraska (-9%)
  • New Mexico (-4%)
  • North Dakota (-1%)
  • Wyoming (-13%).

Eight states experienced more than a 15% increase in the estimated number of deaths last year:

  • Arkansas (+26%)
  • Connecticut(+22%)
  • District of Columbia (+33%)
  • Georgia (+18%)
  • Mississippi (+19%)
  • Rhode Island (+26%)
  • South Dakota (+33%)
  • Vermont (+32%).

The NSC says a first step toward zero deaths is to Double Down on What Works, according to guidance released by the Road to Zero Coalition and NSC in 2018. The NSC lists some of the immediate life-saving measures that would set the nation on a road to zero deaths as:

  • Equitable implementation of roadway safety laws, policies, procedures, infrastructure improvements is sorely needed. Communities of color are disproportionately impacted by motor vehicle crashes, roadway policies, lack of access to public transportation and poor infrastructure, among other critical elements that make a safe system.

  • Mandatory ignition interlocks for convicted drunk drivers, lowering state BAC levels to .05 and better education about the nature of impairment and when it begins

  • Lowering � not raising � speed limits in accordance with roadway design, using a safe system approach

  • Installation and use of automated enforcement to support safe speeds and adherence to traffic lights

  • Laws banning all cell phone use � including hands-free � should extend to all drivers, not just teens. States with existing bans need to upgrade enforcement from secondary to primary.

  • Seat belt laws should be upgraded from secondary to primary enforcement and restraint laws should extend to every passenger in every seating position, in all kinds of vehicles

  • All new drivers under 21 � not just those under 18 � should adhere to a three-tiered licensing system for novice drivers

  • Automated Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) that have life-saving potential should be standardized and accelerated into the fleet

  • Motorcycle helmet laws should be passed or reinstated

  • Communities and municipalities should adopt comprehensive programs for pedestrian and bicyclist safety

A note about the preliminary data. The NSC says that motor vehicle fatality estimates are subject to slight increases and decreases as data mature. The National Safety Council uses data from the National Center for Health Statistics, an arm of the CDC, so that deaths occurring within 100 days of the crash and on both public and private roadways � such as parking lots and driveways � are included in the Council's estimates.

The National Safety Council has calculated traffic fatality estimates since 1913.

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