Traffic Deaths Rise at Alarming Rate in 2020 While Large Truck-Involved Fatalities Decrease

Washington D.C. – Traffic fatalities rose to the highest level in thirteen years in 2020 even amid the pandemic as Americans drove 430 billion fewer miles than in 2019.

On Thursday, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released preliminary estimates of crash fatalities last year involving motor vehicle occupants, motorcyclists, and people walking and biking.


According to data collected by the NHTSA, an estimated 38,680 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes — the largest projected number of fatalities since 2007.

This 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.


Traffic fatalities rose in most major categories including: passenger vehicle occupants (23,395, up 5%), motorcyclists (5,015, up 9%), and pedalcyclists (846, up 5%).

However, fatalities reported in crashes involving a large truck (gross vehicle weight rating of more than 10,000 lbs — commercial and non-commercial use) decreased by 2% in 2020.

Estimates show 4,895 people perished in large truck-involved accidents in 2020 compared to 5,005 in 2019.

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Alarming Increase Attributed To…

The NHTSA attributed the alarming overall increase in fatalities to impaired driving, speeding and failure to wear a seat belt.

For example, fatalities reported in alcohol-involved crashes rose 9% in 2020 to 7,324 from 6,704 in 2019.

Additionally, speeding related fatalities rose 11% and deaths involving crashes with unrestrained occupants of passenger vehicles  increased by 15%.


Other Categories Reporting Large Increases

The traffic fatality counts in the following categories also showed large increases in 2020 as compared to 2019:

• On rural local/collector roads (up 11%), urban interstates (up 15%), urban local/collector roads (up 12%);
• During nighttime (up 11%);
• During the weekend (up 9%);
• In older vehicles 10 years or older (up 6%);
• In rollover crashes (up 9%);
• Occupant ejection (up 20%);
• In single-vehicle crashes (up 9%);
• In the 16-to-24 age group (up 15%), the 25-to-34 age group (up 18%), and the 35-to-44 age group (up 14%);
• Males (up 9%); and
• Non-Hispanic Black people (up 23%)

Click HERE for more on this and/or to access the NHTSA’s reports.

Photo courtesy of Frank Catalina

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