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NSC: Roads Were Emptier but Deadlier in 2020

March 10, 2021
Preliminary data from the National Safety Council has found the largest increase in deaths from motor vehicles despite fewer people on the road because of COVID-19.

Despite many people sheltering at home and not driving, motor vehicle deaths in 2020 were the highest since 2007, according to a preliminary data from the National Safety Council (NSC).

The NSC says deaths from motor vehicles on public roads, parking lots and driveways rose 8% last year, resulting in as many as 42,060 lives lost. The rate of driving fatalities increased 24% from 2019 to 2020, the highest increase in 96 years. That’s in spite of the fact that the number of miles driven decreased 13%

“It is tragic that in the U.S., we took cars off the road and didn’t reap any safety benefits” said Lorraine Martin, NSC president and CEO in a statement. “These data expose our lack of an effective roadway safety culture.”

In addition, an estimated 4.8 million roadway users were seriously injured in crashes in 2020.

Further analysis found that only nine states saw a decline in deaths (ranging from 1% to 13%) while eight states saw more than a 15% increase in deaths in 2020.

Early estimates from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) also show a 4.6% increase in fatalities for the first nine months of 2020 compared to 2019 despite a 14.5% decrease in vehicle miles traveled.

While reasons for the increase are still being investigated, Martin told NPR that risky driving behaviors played a role.

"And we know what those risky driving behaviors are, even though we haven't done all the analysis of these specific crashes," she says. "We know it's speeding. We know it's driving without a seatbelt. And we know it's driving impaired...and distracted."

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