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Report estimates 2020 traffic fatalities highest in 13 years

National Safety Council releases preliminary data on motor vehicle crashes

Fatal motor vehicle crashes in 2020 increased 8% over the previous year despite a drop in driving because of the pandemic, according to a report released this morning by the National Safety Council (NSC).

Preliminary data suggests 42,060 people died and 4.8 million were seriously injured in crashes in 2020, according to the report. The rate of death from that data shows a 24% rise over the previous year though motorists traveled 13% fewer miles. That accounted for the biggest year-over-year increase in 96 years, the report noted.

“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 NSC, 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.”

State by state data is available.

Martin testified before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Subcommittee on Highways and Transit on Feb. 24, raising her concerns.

“While much of the nation was under stay-at-home orders during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic and therefore not travelling in vehicles, the motor vehicle fatality rate increased by double digits in March and April of 2020 over 2019 levels. It did not improve as the year progressed,” she said.

“Clearly, we have not conquered the persistent problems of impaired driving, speeding and lack of seat belt use,” she added. “NSC believes we can and must do better; we can reach zero roadway fatalities through a multifaceted approach that includes education, strong laws, multiple approaches to safety law enforcement, incorporation of new technology and system design change.”

In her testimony, Martin said the three chief behaviors related to the fatalities remained constant for decades and offered the following statistics for each:

  • 47% of passenger vehicle occupants killed in motor vehicle crashes were unbelted
  • 28% of people who died perished in alcohol-impaired wrecks
  • 26% of motor vehicle fatalities were speed-related.

“The United States has consistently avoided the hard choices needed to save lives on the roadways,” Martin told the subcommittee. “The reauthorization of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act is an opportunity for us to make the right choices.”

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