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Americans drove less in 2020 during the national shutdowns. But an estimated 38,680 people died in vehicle crashes last year in accidents, according to preliminary estimates from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. This was the largest number of projected deaths from car accidents and other vehicle crashes that were reported since 2007.

Less miles and more fatalities

The number of traffic deaths last year was a 7.2 percent increase from the 36,096 deaths reported in 2019. But vehicle miles traveled in 2020 fell by 13.2 percent or approximately 430.2 billion miles, according to preliminary data from the Federal Highway Administration.

In 2020, the fatality rate was 1.37 deaths per 100 million VMT. This was an increase from the 1.11 fatalities per 100 VMT reported in 2019.

In 2020, traffic deaths rose in most major categories compared to 2019:

  • Passenger vehicle occupant fatalities rose five percent to 23,395.
  • Motorcyclist fatalities rose nine percent to 5,015.
  • Pedal cyclist fatalities rose five percent to 846.
  • There were 6,205pedetrian deaths which was the same as 2019.

Traffic deaths in accidents involving large trucks are estimated to drop slightly by two percent. Fatalities among those 65 and older are projected to fall by approximately nine percent.

Causes

According to the NHTSA research, driving patterns and behaviors changed substantially during the country’s public health emergency and shutdowns.

Motorists who kept driving during that time took more risks. They engaged in conduct that was, according to the NHTSA, responsible for the increased fatalities in 2020. There was more speeding, driving while impaired by alcohol or drugs and failure to wear seat belts.

Average speeds increased throughout 2020, according to traffic data. Examples of extreme speeding became more common.

Crash types

Increases in many accident factors in 2020 played a role in these deaths:

  • Speeding-related accidents up 11 percent.
  • Police-reported alcohol involvement accidents up nine percent.
  • Occupant ejection up 20 percent.
  • Urban interstates accidents up 15 percent.
  • Single-vehicle accidents up nine percent.
  • Roll-over accidents up nine percent.

Victims of accident caused by a reckless or negligent drivers or the families may be entitled to compensation. Attorneys can assist them with pursuing their rights in negotiations and trials.