Latest Traffic Safety Data Adds Grim Death Count to an Already Tragic Year

The public health epidemic created by dangerous roads, dangerous cars, and dangerous drivers was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to recent data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

June 8, 2021, 5:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


Street Traffic

logoboom / Shutterstock

Alissa Walker reports:

An estimated 38,680 people were killed on U.S. roadways in 2020, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) confirmed today. This is not just a 7 percent increase from the previous year — it’s the highest number recorded since 2007, it comes after years of (modest) declines, and it happened even as Americans drove 13 percent fewer miles than they had the year before. 

The latest data serves as confirmation of preliminary data as well as observations from throughout the pandemic about increasing levels of reckless driving on the relatively empty roads during the pandemic.

Traffic fatalities were up for occupants of passenger vehicles, pedestrians, motorcyclists, and people on bikes. Traffic fatalities were also up according to a litany of metrics like "occupant ejection," on urban interstates, on rural local and collector roads, at night, on the weekend, and due to alcohol, among other measures, according to a press release announcing the new traffic safety data.

That press release includes a soundbite from the acting director of the NHTSA, Steven Cliff, saying that safety is the top priority of the U.S. Department of Transportation. "We intend to use all available tools to reverse these trends and reduce traffic fatalities and injuries,” says Cliff.

According to Walker, the grim statistics are followed by the potential for unprecedented traffic safety reforms at the state level in New York. "For the first time in history, comprehensive and meaningful reform is being proposed in New York State, as a coalition of traffic-safety advocates are supporting eight bills before legislators, including proposed laws that would tighten blood-alcohol limits, allow speed cameras to operate day and night, and create a first-of-its-kind pedestrian-safety rating system for SUVs."

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