Roads have been emptier since Covid-19. They've also been deadlier.
The number of people who died in motor vehicle crashes in 2020 is estimated to be the highest in 13 years, despite the fact that there has been a dramatic drop in miles driven. Those lost lives represent a 24% spike in the road crash death rate from 2019, the biggest increase in 96 years, since 1924.
Those are the highlights of a new analysis of preliminary data released on Thursday by the National Safety Council, a nonprofit advocacy group, that indicated an estimated 42,060 people died in traffic crashes in 2020, an 8% increase over 2019, a year where people drove much less (13%) frequently due to the pandemic.
“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 chief executive of the National Safety Council, said in a statement. “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.”
In addition to the fatalities, an estimated 4.8 million more people were seriously injured in crashes in 2020, and the estimated cost to society was $474 billion.
The dramatic numbers underscore “the nation’s persistent failure to prioritize safety on the roads, which became emptier but far more deadly,” during the pandemic, the safety group said. The provisional examination also provided a breakdown by state, with some experiencing “dramatic swings in fatalities from year to year.”
Eight jurisdictions experienced more than a 15% increase in the estimated number of deaths last year: Arkansas (+26%), Connecticut (+22%), District of Columbia (+33%), Georgia (+18%), Mississippi (+19%), Rhode Island (+26%), South Dakota (+33%) and Vermont (+32%).
Some states, however, saw a drop in deaths: Alaska (-3%), Delaware (-11%), Hawaii (-20%), Idaho (-7%), Maine (-1%), Nebraska (-9%), New Mexico (-4%), North Dakota (-1%) and Wyoming (-13%).
Overall, due to “the alarming picture painted by these data,” the National Safety Council along with more than 1,500 other organizations and individuals, wrote to President Joe Biden and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg urging the new administration to commit to zero roadway deaths.
The first step toward that goal, the safety group said, is to “double down” on a series of live-saving measures that are known to work. These include:
“It is tragic that we have proven ‘vaccines’ that could be significantly bringing down these numbers but they are not being implemented,” Cathy Chase, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, said in a statement in response to the National Safety Council’s preliminary new crash fatality figures. “It is time for ourfederal and state officials to step up and stop this unconscionable death toll.”
A number of advanced technologies, like automatic emergency braking systems that reduce or mitigate crashes, have proven to save lives and should be compliant with minimum safety standards, Chase said, “yet, a number of auto manufacturers are not putting them in new cars as standard equipment. Instead, they are upcharging for them in luxury packages coupled with non-safety features. A family should not have to pay thousands of additional dollars to get the safest braking system, and many cannot afford to do so.”
“This inequitable practice can and must be stopped,” Chase added.
For more information, including estimates for each state, click here and here.