Americans drove an estimated 13% fewer miles in 2020, likely due to stay-at-home orders during the pandemic, yet the country experienced an astounding 24% jump in the rate of road-related deaths over the year before, according to the National Safety Council (NSC). The jump represents the largest year-over-year increase calculated by the NSC in 96 years, which representatives say highlights the dire need for the U.S. to prioritize road safety.
CoPilot analyzed preliminary data from the National Safety Council, released on March 4, 2020, to determine the 10 states with the most motor vehicle deaths in 2020. States are ranked according to the number of deaths per 100,000 people, and ties are broken by the state total number of motor vehicle deaths in 2020. Population estimates were obtained from the U.S. Census Bureau, released on July 1, 2020.
There were 42,060 total motor vehicle deaths in 2020 across the United States, an 8% increase since 2019. Only nine states saw a decrease in the number of fatalities between 2019 and 2020: New Mexico, Wyoming, North Dakota, Maine, Delaware, Nebraska, Idaho, Alaska, and Hawaii.
In a statement, NSC president and CEO Lorraine M. Martin remarked, “It is tragic that in the U.S., we took cars off the roads and didn't reap any safety benefits.” In an interview with NPR, Martin surmised that less traffic led drivers to engage in risky behaviors such driving without a seatbelt on, speeding, or driving while impaired or distracted. Full analysis of the causes behind the major increase in road-related deaths by various organizations are ongoing.
Besides the obvious cost of human life, roadway accidents cost an estimated $474 billion in 2020. NSC, along with more than 1,500 fellow organizations, in January 2021 sent a letter to the Biden administration calling for a commitment to zero roadway fatalities by 2050. NSC’s Road to Zero Coalition suggests this goal could be met by taking actions such as banning all cell phone use, lowering speed limits, reinstating or passing motorcycle helmet laws, and adopting bicyclist and pedestrian safety programs in communities across the country.