NHTSA says 2020 data shows increased traffic fatalities during pandemic

Reported number of fatalities last year represents an increase of about 7.2% compared to 2019

June 23, 2021 / 1 minute read
road traffic safety

Early estimates from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) show that an estimated 38,680 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2020—the largest projected number of fatalities since 2007.

The NHTSA this month released preliminary estimates of crash fatalities in 2020 involving motor vehicle occupants, motorcyclists, and people walking and biking in a report titled "Early Estimate of Motor Vehicle Traffic Fatalities in 2020."

While Americans drove less in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the reported number of fatalities last year represents an increase of about 7.2% as compared to the 36,096 fatalities reported in 2019.

Preliminary data from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) shows vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in 2020 decreased by about 430.2 billion miles, or about a 13.2% decrease. 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 include: impaired driving, speeding, and failure to wear a seat belt.

Safety is the top priority for the U.S. Department of Transportation. Loss of life is unacceptable on our nation’s roadways, and everyone has a role to play in ensuring that they are safe. We intend to use all available tools to reverse these trends and reduce traffic fatalities and injuries,” Dr. Steven Cliff, NHTSA’s Acting Administrator, said in a statement. “The President’s American Jobs Plan would provide an additional $19 billion in vital funding to improve road safety for all users, including people walking and biking. It will increase funding for existing safety programs and allow for the creation of new ones, with a goal of saving lives.” 

NHTSA’s projections show significant increases in fatalities during the third and fourth quarters of 2020 as compared to the corresponding quarters of 2019. NHTSA will continue to carefully analyze various data sources to understand how the risks to vulnerable road users might have changed during 2020 and the contributing factors for the increase.  

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SOURCE: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

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