For 15 years, U.S. roadway deaths declined. That ended in 2020, despite traffic numbers being down due to the pandemic restrictions. Through the first half of this year, drivers are on pace to surpass last year’s numbers.
According to the National Safety Council, motor vehicle deaths are up 16% through the first half of the year, based on initial estimates. That amounts to approximately 21,400 fatalities on America’s highways and other roads.
“These figures are not only alarming but devastating as we see once again too many lives lost on the roads,” said Lorraine Martin, NSC president and CEO.
“It is up to each and every one of us to do everything we can to be safe and keep each other safe. NSC implores every person to take safe driving practices seriously; they could be the difference between someone living or dying.”
By the numbers
The decline in traffic across the U.S. seemingly would have resulted in a decline in fatalities; however, early estimates show an estimated 38,680 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes — the largest projected number of fatalities since 2007, NHTSA revealed.
It’s an increase of 7.2% compared to the 36,096 deaths reported in 2019. Preliminary data from the Federal Highway Administration shows vehicle miles traveled in 2020 decreased by about 430.2 billion miles, or about a 13.2 percent.
The fatality rate for 2020 was 1.37 fatalities per 100 million VMT, up from 1.11 fatalities per 100 million VMT in 2019. NHTSA’s analysis shows that the main behaviors that drove this increase includes: impaired driving, speeding and failure to wear a seat belt.
At the end of 2020, NSC estimates showed that 42,000 people may have died on the roads, indicating a 24% rise in the death rate while the number of miles driven dropped 13%, the group noted. Through the June, the death rate climbed another 3%, signaling that the dangerous driving behaviors that grew last year have carried over.
That’s worrisome as amount of traffic on the roads is continuing to grow as the impact of the pandemic continues to wane, at least in terms of the mobility of people.
Who is the problem?
It’s difficult to point a finger at “who,” but “where” is certainly a question worth asking. Some states did see drops in the number of deaths, including Maine, Kansas, Alaska, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Wisconsin.
However, there were eight states with increase of 30% or more, including:
- South Dakota (+51%, 22 more deaths)
- Oregon (+51%, 88 more deaths)
- Minnesota (+41%, 61 more deaths)
- Idaho (+39%, 30 more deaths)
- Nevada (+38%, 50 more deaths)
- Utah (+36%, 40 more deaths)
- Vermont (+33%, seven more deaths)
- Tennessee (+30%, 156 more deaths)
NHTSA’s estimates suggest a higher number of deaths in the third and fourth quarter of 2020, compared to the previous year. If this holds, the overall number will climb closer to the NSC’s projection of 42,000 deaths.
“Our roads are becoming riskier not only each day but each year,” said Mark Chung, NSC vice president, roadway practice. “We need to help each other in making the roads in our communities safer for all users. If you witness unsafe driving behaviors, say something if you are able and possibly save someone from losing their life.”
The estimated cost of motor-vehicle deaths, injuries, and property damage in the first half of 2021 was $241.9 billion, according to the NSC.