You would think that the pandemic that has been raging for the past year, keeping us out of the office and working from home—and thus keeping more people off the roads—would automatically mean there were fewer driving-related deaths in 2020 than in normal years. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. At all.
A new report from the National Safety Council (NSC) reveals that the number of motor-vehicle deaths in 2020 was the highest in 13 years. As a matter of fact, 2020 saw a 24% overall spike in road traffic deaths—the largest spike in 96 years.
The NSC says that 42,060 people were estimated to have died in motor vehicle incidents in 2020—all this despite the number of actual miles driven dropping by 13%. But if fewer miles were driven, why did more people die in traffic-related deaths? There’s no firm answer, but some have speculated that with fewer cars on the road, drivers took more risks, leading to the increase in deaths.
While there is some good news—nine states saw traffic fatalities drop—the rest saw increases, with seven states and the District of Columbia seeing a staggering rise in road traffic deaths of 15% or more. Those states are:
- Washington, D.C. (+33%)
- South Dakota (+33%)
- Vermont (+32%)
- Rhode Island (+26%)
- Arkansas (+26%)
- Connecticut (+22%)
- Mississippi (+19%)
- Georgia (+18%)
The NSC is calling on President Biden to commit to a zero roadway deaths by 2050 policy, which includes new rules like making even hands-free use of phones illegal while driving, lowering speed limits, and initiating a three-tier driver’s license system for new drivers.
“It is tragic that in the U.S., we took cars off the roads and didn’t reap any safety benefits,” Lorraine M. Martin, president and CEO of the National Safety Council said in a statement. “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.”