NSC: Motor vehicle deaths reach 13-year high in 2020 despite less traffic
Itasca, IL — An estimated 42,060 people were killed in motor vehicle-related crashes last year – the highest total in 13 years, according to preliminary estimates from the National Safety Council.
The estimate represents a 7.6% jump from the 2019 total of 39,107 and is the largest annual total since 2007 (43,945), despite people driving significantly less during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, the estimated total number of miles driven fell 13%, yet the preliminary estimated rate of roadway deaths spiked 24% compared with the previous year.
“The increase in the rate of death is the highest estimated year-over-year jump that NSC has calculated since 1924 – 96 years,” the council says in a press release. “It underscores the nation’s persistent failure to prioritize safety on the roads, which became emptier but far more deadly.”
An estimated 4.8 million additional people were seriously injured in roadway crashes last year, with an estimated cost to society of $474 billion.
In light of this new data, NSC is reiterating its call for the Biden administration to “commit to zero roadway deaths by 2050.” In January, the Road to Zero Coalition at NSC, along with a group of more than 1,5000 organizations and individuals dedicated to traffic safety, sent a letter to the administration urging it to make the elimination of roadway deaths one of its most pressing priorities.
“It is tragic that in the U.S., we took cars off the roads and didn’t reap any safety benefits,” NSC President and CEO Lorraine M. Martin said in the release. “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.”
According to guidance released by the coalition in 2018, a first step toward zero deaths is to “double down on what works.” Immediate measures that would set the nation on a road to zero deaths include:
- Equitable implementation of roadway safety laws, policies, procedures and infrastructure improvements.
- Mandatory ignition interlocks for convicted drunk drivers, lowering state blood alcohol content levels to .05%, and better education about the nature of impairment and when it begins.
- Lowering – not raising – speed limits in accordance with roadway design, using a safe system approach.
- Installation and use of automated enforcement to support safe speeds and adherence to traffic lights.
- Laws banning all cellphone use – including hands-free – should extend to all drivers, not just teens. States with existing bans should upgrade enforcement from secondary to primary.
- Seat belt laws should be upgraded from secondary to primary enforcement, and restraint laws should extend to every passenger in every seating position, in all kinds of vehicles.
- All new drivers younger than 21 – not just those younger than 18 – should adhere to a three-tiered licensing system for novice drivers.
- Automated driver assistance systems that have lifesaving potential should be standardized and accelerated into the fleet.
- Motorcycle helmet laws should be passed or reinstated.
- Communities and municipalities should adopt comprehensive programs for pedestrian and bicyclist safety.