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.

Read Time: 2 minutes

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."

Thursday, June 3, 2021 in Curbed

Chicago Commute

The Right to Mobility

As we consider how to decarbonize transportation, preserving mobility, especially for lower- and middle-income people, must be a priority.

January 26, 2023 - Angie Schmitt

Sharrow bike markings on black asphalt two-lane road with snowy trees

Early Sharrow Booster: ‘I Was Wrong’

The lane marking was meant to raise awareness and instill shared respect among drivers and cyclists. But their inefficiency has led supporters to denounce sharrows, pushing instead for more robust bike infrastructure that truly protects riders.

January 26, 2023 - Streetsblog USA

View of stone-paved street with pedestrians and "Farmers Market" neon sign on left and old buildings on right in Seattle, Washington

Push and Pull: The Link Between Walkability and Affordability

The increased demand for walkable urban spaces could make them more and more exclusionary if cities don’t pursue policies to limit displacement and boost affordability.

January 27, 2023 - Smart Cities Dive

View of Tacoma, Washington with Mount Rainier in background

Tacoma Developing New Housing Policy

The city’s Home in Tacoma plan is designed to address the region’s growth and rising housing prices, but faces local backlash over density and affordability concerns.

1 hour ago - The Urbanist

Green alley under construction

A New Paradigm for Stormwater Management

Rather than shuttling stormwater away from the city and into the ocean as quickly as possible, Los Angeles is now—slowly—moving toward a ‘city-as-sponge’ approach that would capture and reclaim more water to recharge crucial reservoirs.

2 hours ago - Curbed

Aerial view of residential neighborhood in La Habra, California at sunset

Orange County Project Could Go Forward Under ‘Builder’s Remedy’

The nation’s largest home builder could receive approval for a 530-unit development under an obscure state law as the city of La Habra’s zoning laws hang in limbo after the state rejected its proposed housing plan.

3 hours ago - Orange County Register