While the pandemic kept Americans at home, the number of miles driven in the U.S. dropped 13%. Safety experts hoped that would mean a silver lining of fewer deadly accidents. But it was exactly the opposite. “We knew 2020 was going to be bad because of the trend lines we had seen, but we didn't realize it would be this bad,” says Maureen Vogel from the National Safety Council.
Preliminary estimates from the National Safety Council show more than 42,000 motor vehicle deaths in 2020. That’s up 8% from the year before and marks a 13-year high.
With fewer cars on the roads, drivers got reckless while police begged for caution. “We took open roads as an open invitation to speed, drive recklessly. There are reports in some states of increases of impaired driving,” says Vogel.
In addition to the spike in death rates, 4.8 million people were seriously injured in crashes last year. Safety experts are calling for action. “Instead of raising speed limits, we really should be thinking about either keeping them what they are or lowering them. We need seatbelt laws. And then we need distracted driving laws,” Vogel says.
Texas was at the top of the list with nearly 3,900 driving deaths last year. The numbers reveal that during the worst public health crisis in a century, there was also a crisis on the roads.
The National Safety Council says seven states and the District of Columbia showed a more than 15% increase in the estimated number of deaths last year. The states were Arkansas, Connecticut, South Dakota, Georgia, Mississippi, Vermont, and Rhode Island.