U.S. Road Fatalities in 2020 Hit 13-Year High | Road Safety Facts

The nation’s highways in 2020 were more deadly than they have been in more than a decade. After 13 years of dropping road fatality rates, preliminary estimates indicate that 2020 will see a sharp increase in the number of traffic deaths.

The estimates for the entire year indicate that an unfortunate trend that started with U.S. road fatalities in the first half of the year continued into the second half. These numbers, coupled with numbers on fleet fatalities from the NHTSA truck fatality report, show the critical importance of fleet safety.

The National Safety Council estimates that 42,060 died in road fatalities in 2019, up from 8% in 2019. That’s the highest number since 43,975 died on the road in 2007.

Death Increased Even As Miles Driven Dropped

The numbers from the National Safety Council are estimates. However, they have been within 2% of the actual numbers every year for decades, so most experts take the estimates as a good indicator of the eventual final tallies. Those final numbers won’t be known until later this year.

The council breaks down the numbers in different ways to provide quick context and the ability to see the impact of traffic fatalities. They include the following.

  • The road fatalities equaled 12.89 deaths per 100,000 population
  • The estimated mileage death rate is 1.49 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (a 24% increase from 2019)

The number of deaths increased even as people drove less due to the lockdowns put in place by governments as the pandemic spread across the country. The council numbers indicated that the total number of vehicle miles driven in 2020 were down 13% from 2019, from 3.2 billion to 2.8 billion.

Real-Time Driver Coaching

Reasons For The Increased Numbers

With people driving less, why did the road fatality numbers increase? Experts have offered differing opinions, but many of them revolve around the idea that with fewer cars on the road, people drove much faster. That, in turn, led to more accidents.

For fleet managers, telematics software prevents that issue with commercial drivers. Systems can alert drivers when they exceed the speed limit. They also can provide in-cab coaching and help managers determine the best training for their drivers.

Unfortunately, other drivers may have seen the pandemic as an opportunity. Michael Hanson, director of the Office of Traffic Safety for the Minnesota Public Safety Department, told ABC News that he saw a change in driver behavior immediately after the lockdowns went into effect.

“Almost immediately the fatality rate started to go up, and go up significantly,” he said. “It’s kind of terrifying what we’re seeing on our roads. We’re seeing a huge increase in the amount of risk-taking behavior.”

That type of driving also led to millions of situations where medical professionals had to treat those who had been in an accident. The National Safety Council estimated that in 2020 4.7 million non-fatal accidents still required a medical professional to treat the injured. All told, the estimated cost of motor-vehicle deaths, injuries and property damage reached $474.4 billion in 2020.

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