The latest driving data shows more driving, more crashes, and more fatalities.
In 2020, Americans drove nearly 3.25 billion miles, only a 1 percent increase from 2019.1 However, despite the fact that this number barely changed, Americans had a disproportionately larger amount of fatal crashes, fatalities, and injuries in 2020, according to the latest data available from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Let’s take a closer look.
From 2019 to 2020, the number of fatal traffic crashes in the U.S. increased by 7 percent. Note that the number of traffic fatalities isn’t the highest it’s ever been (that occurred in 2005 with 38,252 traffic fatalities, according to data from the NHTSA2). Still, given the fact that from 2010 to 2020, the increase in traffic fatalities was 18 percent, 7 percent is a significant jump to make in a single year.
|Drivers killed in traffic crashes||17,984||19,519||9%|
|Passengers killed in traffic crashes||5,846||5,966||2%|
|Unknown people killed in traffic crashes||61||51||-16%|
|Motorcyclists killed in traffic crashes||5,044||5,579||11%|
|Pedestrians killed in traffic crashes||6,272||6,516||4%|
|Pedal cyclists killed in traffic crashes||859||938||9%|
|Other/Unknown nonmotorists killed in traffic crashes||289||255||-12%|
|Fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT)||1.11||1.34||21%|
|Fatalities per 100,000 people||11.07||11.78||6%|
|Fatalities per 100,000 registered vehicles||12.15||13.04||7%|
|Fatalities per 100,000 licensed drivers||15.88||17.01||7%|
Fortunately, most crashes do not involve traffic fatalities, which make up less than 1 percent of all crashes total. Most crashes result in property damage, but only 71 percent, while 28 percent involve injuries. Unfortunately, no matter the effects of a crash, the cost of car insurance after an accident will most likely increase.
In some states, traffic fatalities are more common than in others. When we controlled for population, South Carolina had the highest number of traffic fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT), at 1.97. The lowest rates were in Massachusetts and Minnesota, with rates of 0.63 and 0.76 per 100 million VMT, respectively.
NHTSA data also shows the number of traffic fatalities per state. The largest increase from 2019 to 2020 was in Washington, D.C., where traffic fatalities rose by 57 percent, followed by South Dakota at 38 percent.
|State||Number of traffic fatalities in 2019||Number of traffic fatalities in 2020||Year-over-year difference|
|District of Columbia||23||36||57%|
Unfortunately, these numbers increased from 2019 to 2020 in 40 states, stayed the same in three states, and decreased in only seven states.
In 2020, there was one alcohol-impaired traffic fatality every 45 minutes, for a total of 11,654 deaths. That’s a 14 percent increase from 2019. Additionally, driving under the influence made up 30 percent of all traffic fatalities in the U.S. It pays not to drink and drive, especially when rideshare services exist.
Speeding is another big issue, teen speeding in particular. The year 2020 saw 11,258 traffic fatalities in which at least one driver was speeding. This number made up 29 percent of all traffic fatalities in the year, a 17 percent increase from 2019.
But drivers and their passengers aren’t the only ones who can get killed or injured in car accidents. Pedestrians are at risk as well. In 2020, 6,516 pedestrians were killed in car crashes, a 4 percent increase from 2019. That’s one pedestrian death every 81 minutes.
Motorcycle deaths made up 14 percent of all traffic fatalities in 2020, with a record 5,579 deaths, an 11 percent increase from 2019.
While 2020 is the last full year for which the NHTSA has published national traffic fatality data, it has published data from the first nine months of 2021. In that time period compared to the same time period in 2020, traffic fatalities increased by 12 percent, the highest number since 2006. That’s despite the fact that from 2020 to 2021, the number of miles driven decreased by 13 percent, according to data from the Federal Highway Administration. The lesson is clear: Even when roads are less busy, getting behind the wheel is still risky, and we seem to be getting worse at driving. So, when driving, it’s important to follow local speed limits and avoid driving distractions like texting. If you’re drowsy or otherwise impaired, it’s likely best not to drive at all.
Annual Vehicle Miles Traveled in the United States. U.S Department of Energy. (2022).
FARS Encylopedia. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (2020).