A fairly steady reduction in serious motor vehicle accidents on U.S. roadways occurred from 2007 to 2019, with some minor exceptions. This favorable trend stopped in 2020, despite drivers compiling fewer miles traveled during the year.
By just about any measure, last year saw a surprising spate of accidents and deaths on the nation’s roadways.
A significant increase in deaths
The USA Today reported that just over 42,000 people died in vehicle crashes in 2020. This amounted to an 8% increase over 2019, and it was the first rise in four years. Even more alarming, the fatality rate per 100 million miles traveled jumped 24%, the greatest increase since data collection began in 1923.
Authorities pin the blame on bad behavior such as careless driving and excessive speeds. One has to go all the way back to 2007, when nearly 44,000 people died in U.S. traffic accidents, to find a deadlier year. Also, 4.8 million people suffered injuries in accidents in 2020.
A decrease in miles driven in 2020
All of this came during a time when people stayed off the roadways in record numbers. According to federal data, Americans drove 13% fewer miles in 2020. This amounted to a decrease of 2.8 trillion miles.
Early data show that excessive speed appears as a common contributing factor to many accidents. With fewer people on the roads and more space on the highways, some drivers used this as an excuse to drive faster and less carefully.
Preliminary information also suggests the use of alcohol, marijuana and opioids played a significant role. Initial data indicates the bad habits from 2020 could spill over into 2021.