Traffic deaths were up last year in the U.S. to levels not seen since 2007, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Thursday, in what is an urgent public health matter that, for one reason or another, we don’t talk about enough. Deaths were up even though Americans drove billions of fewer miles.
For all of 2020, 38,680 people died on U.S. roads – up 7.2% or nearly 2,600 more than in 2019, even though Americans drove 13% fewer miles, preliminary data shows. The fatality rate hit 1.37 deaths per 100 million miles, the highest figure since 2006.
In the second half of 2020, the number of traffic deaths was up more than 13%.
NHTSA said the main behaviors that drove this increase include: impaired driving, speeding and failure to wear seat belts.
Here’s how the increases broke down by NHTSA region:
The death increases also happened with fewer crashes.
The formula here is pretty simple, in that with fewer cars on the road, there are fewer crashes, but also with fewer cars there is more opportunity to go fast, resulting in deadlier crashes. More impaired driving, meanwhile, is not that much of a surprise given that drinking, in general, has gone up in the pandemic. I don’t know of an easy explanation for less seatbelt use.
In reaction to the data, the Governors Highway Safety Association, which represents individual states, said:
Throughout the pandemic, Americans have worked collectively to protect themselves and each other by wearing masks, social distancing and getting vaccinated. We must exhibit that same diligence when it comes to safety on our roads. Slow down, buckle up, stow your phone and never drive impaired.
Be careful out there.