COVID lockdowns began during the spring of 2020, forcing people to spend more time at home and less on the road throughout the year. Despite COVID lockdowns and people driving far less, traffic deaths in the U.S. rose in 2020 for the first time in years.
A report from the National Safety Council, a nonprofit organization that promotes health and occupational safety, said motor vehicle deaths increased in 2020 for the first time in four years. Approximately 42,060 people were killed by motor vehicles, an 8% increase from the 39,107 people killed by motor vehicles the previous year. Additionally, 4.8 million people were seriously injured by cars in 2020. According to the report, 2020 was the deadliest year for motor vehicle crashes since 2007.
The fatalities strangely occurred during a year when travel decreased drastically due to the pandemic. While total miles driven in the U.S. fell by 13% in 2020, the death rate per every million miles increased by 24%. This was the largest net increase in the death rate since the National Safety Council first started collecting data in 1924, according to Gizmodo.
The National Safety Council believes people are being riskier drivers. Ken Kolosh, the National Safety Council’s manager of statistics, told USA Today early data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows speeding is the leading cause of the increased fatalities, followed by intoxicated drivers.
“It’s kind of terrifying what we’re seeing on our roads,” Michael Hanson, director of the Minnesota Public Safety Department’s Office of Traffic Safety, told the Associated Press. “We’re seeing a huge increase in the amount of risk-taking behavior.”
The National Safety Council, alongside other safety organizations, recently penned an open letter to the Biden Administration saying they wanted to achieve zero traffic deaths by 2050. To meet this goal, the National Safety Council recommended better enforcing safety laws, lowering the legal driving limit, and improving the country’s infrastructure.