NSC: Motor vehicle deaths reach 13-year high in 2020 despite less traffic

car crash
Photo: Tashi-Delek/iStockphoto

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:

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