July 23, 2021
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According to preliminary estimates released June 3 by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, some 38,680 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2020: the largest projected number of fatalities since 2007, the agency said.

[Above photo by the Ohio DOT]

That spike in traffic fatalities also occurred despite a drop in vehicle miles traveled or VMT. Preliminary data from the Federal Highway Administration indicates VMT decreased by about 430.2 billion miles or 13.2 percent in 2020 compared to 2019.

Photo by Tom Saunders/Virginia DOT.

That means, according to NHTSA, that the fatality rate for 2020 climbed to 1.37 fatalities per 100 million VMT, up from 1.11 fatalities per 100 million VMT in 2019.

NHTSA’s analysis also showed that the main factors behind this increase in traffic fatalities include impaired driving, speeding, and failure to wear a seat belt.

The agency noted that its preliminary findings indicate traffic fatalities in 2020 increased in several major categories over 2019. For example, deaths of passenger vehicle occupants jumped 5 percent to 23,395; motorcyclist fatalities climbed 9 percent to 5,015; and deaths of “pedalcyclists” or people on bikes increased 5 percent to 846.

The agency noted that fatalities in speeding-related crashes and in nighttime crashes both increased 11 percent, while deaths in single-vehicle crashes, rollover crashes, and crashes during the weekend all increased by 9 percent.

Photo by NTSB

Deaths due to vehicle occupant ejection jumped 20 percent, with interstates fatalities and deaths of unrestrained occupants of passenger vehicles both up 15 percent. Finally, deaths of non-Hispanic Black people in motor vehicle crashes increased by 23 percent in 2020 versus 2019, NHTSA said.

Yet traffic fatalities remained flat or declined in other major categories as well when comparing 2020 and 2019 numbers, the agency noted. Pedestrian fatalities in 2020, for example, totaled 6,205 – the same as 2019.

Meanwhile, projected 2020 fatalities in crashes involving a large truck – both commercial and non-commercial – should decline by 2 percent versus 2019, while fatalities among older persons (65 years of age and up) should drop by about 9 percent in 2020 compared to 2019.

Alongside the release of the 2020 fatality projections, NHTSA  issued two special reports: Early Estimates of Motor Vehicle Traffic Fatalities and Fatality Rate by Sub-Categories in 2020 and Update to Special Reports on Traffic Safety During the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency: Fourth Quarter Data.

editor@aashto.org

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