Despite fewer drivers on the road, motor vehicle death rate up 14% in March: NSC

Photo: Butsaya/iStockphoto

Itasca, IL — The COVID-19 pandemic has led to “open lanes of traffic and an apparent open season on reckless driving,” National Safety Council President and CEO Lorraine M. Martin said after the release of NSC preliminary estimates showing that, in March, the rate of motor vehicle fatalities in the United States was 14% higher than in March 2019.

According to NSC, quarantines and shelter-in-place directives nationwide were a major contributor to an 18.6% plummet in miles driven and an 8% drop in total number of roadway deaths (2,690) this past March compared with the same month last year. The disparity between these two percentages, however, means the mileage death rate per 100 million vehicle miles driven rose to 1.22 from 1.07, respectively.

“Right now, in the midst of a global pandemic and crisis, we should take it as our civic duty to drive safely,” Martin said in a May 20 press release. “If we won’t do it for ourselves, we should do it for our first responders, our law enforcement and our health care workers, who are rightly focused on coronavirus patients and should not be overwhelmed by preventable car crashes.”

Even with the lower fatality number in March, roadway deaths are estimated to be up 2% through the first three months of the year – for a total of 8,460 – compared with the same time period last year.

As the Memorial Day weekend approaches, NSC estimates that as many as 366 people may be killed in motor vehicle crashes during the three-day weekend.

NSC offers these tips to help drivers stay safe:

  • Obey speed limits, even if roads are clear and traffic is light.
  • Follow state and local directives, and stay off the roads when officials direct you do to so.
  • Remember that pedestrian and bicycle traffic may increase as people head outdoors. In turn, pedestrians and bicyclists should be careful when crossing or walking in streets.
  • Buckle up and drive defensively.
  • Get plenty of sleep to prevent fatigue, and avoid distractions.
  • If you plan to drink, designate a sober driver or arrange alternative transportation.
  • If you have a teen driver, stay engaged and practice with them often – tips are available at
  • Encourage your employer to join the Road to Zero Coalition, a 1,500-member group committed to eliminating roadway deaths by 2050.

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