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Traffic deaths up 7 percent in 2020, despite low travel

Traffic deaths up 7 percent in 2020, despite low travel
© Greg Nash

Traffic deaths spiked by more than 7 percent in 2020, despite motor vehicles traveling less miles, according to preliminary estimates from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

An estimated 38,680 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2020, which was about 7.2 percent higher than the 36,096 of crash fatalities tracked in 2019.

The estimates for 2020, according to the agency, are the largest projected number of fatalities the U.S. has seen since 2007.

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The NHTSA stated that last year saw 1.37 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, up from the 1.11 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled reported in 2019.

Deaths caused by motor vehicle crashes surged in 2020, despite the fact that people spent less time on the roads.

According to preliminary data from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), vehicle miles traveled in 2020 dropped by about 430.2 billion miles, or a roughly 13.2 percent decrease.

According to NHTSA’s analysis, the main behaviors that drove the increase in traffic fatalities were impaired driving, speeding and not wearing a seatbelt.

There are some situations, however, where traffic fatalities decreased. According to NHTSA, crashes involving a large truck are expected to decline by 2 percent, and deaths among people 65 years and older are projected to drop by about 9 percent.

“Safety is the top priority for the U.S. Department of Transportation. Loss of life is unacceptable on our nation’s roadways and everyone has a role to play in ensuring that they are safe. We intend to use all available tools to reverse these trends and reduce traffic fatalities and injuries,” Steven Cliff, NHTSA’s Acting Administrator, said in a statement.

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Cliff said funding from the American Jobs Plan, President BidenJoe BidenJapan to possibly ease COVID-19 restrictions before Olympics 14 Republicans vote against making Juneteenth a federal holiday China supplies millions of vaccine doses to developing nations in Asia MORE's proposed infrastructure package, will provide “vital funding” to boost road safety.

“The President’s American Jobs Plan would provide an additional $19 billion in vital funding to improve road safety for all users, including people walking and biking. It will increase funding for existing safety programs and allow for the creation of new ones, with a goal of saving lives," Cliff said.

NHTSA’s study comes nearly three months after a study from the National Safety Council found that traffic deaths in the U.S. increased by approximately 8 percent in 2020, even as coronavirus lockdowns and stay-at-home orders kept a large number of people off the roads.

That report, from the National Safety Council, was the first time the group had tracked an increase in vehicle crash deaths in four years.