Thanks to the pandemic, Americans drove 13 percent fewer miles in 2020 than they did the year before. But the move to telework and lockdowns has not made our roads any safer. In fact, our roads got a lot more dangerous last year, according to preliminary data collected by the National Safety Council. The council estimates that 42,060 people were killed in crashes, an 8 percent increase from 2019. The rise looks even more shocking when normalized—it rose from 1.2 to 1.49 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, a 24 percent increase.
The National Safety Council also estimates that just under 4.8 million people were injured seriously enough in road crashes to seek medical help for nonfatal injuries. The cost of all this carnage? A whopping $474.4 billion in deaths, injuries, and property damage.
Some states fared better than others. Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Wyoming all saw a drop in road deaths, although for some this was less than 5 percent.
Meanwhile, deaths rose by more than 15 percent in Arkansas, Connecticut, Georgia, Mississippi, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, and the District of Columbia.
One culprit may well be reckless driving. Throughout 2020, there were frequent reports that traffic police were issuing more speeding tickets, particularly for speeds above 100 mph.
For its part, the National Safety Council has some recommendations that seem reasonable, including more equitable implementation of road safety laws and infrastructure improvements, lowering speed limits, banning all drivers from using cellphones (even hands-free) while driving, stricter enforcement of seatbelt laws, and greater use of advanced driver assistance systems where they’re known to benefit safety, among others.
“It is tragic that in the US, we took cars off the roads and didn’t reap any safety benefits,” said Lorraine M. Martin, president and CEO of the National Safety Council. “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.”