Auto Accident Deaths Rise During COVID-19 Pandemic, Despite People Driving Less

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that despite people driving less during the COVID-19 pandemic, motor vehicle accident fatalities have actually increased.

NHTSA estimates for 2020 show that 38,680 people died in U.S. motor vehicle traffic crashes — the largest projected number of fatalities since 2007. This figure represents an increase of about 7.2 percent over the 36,096 crash fatalities reported in 2019.

This rise in traffic accident deaths is in contrast to the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) report that overall vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in 2020 decreased by about 13.2 percent, compared to miles traveled in 2019. The decrease in driving during the 2020 coronavirus crisis can be attributed to a number of factors, including…

  • More people working from home and meeting remotely
  • A decrease in business travel, leisure travel, and tourism
  • People leaving home less often (e.g., on shopping trips or to dine out) to minimize risk of exposure to the COVID-19 virus

NHTSA suggests the behaviors driving the increase in auto accident fatalities include impaired driving, speeding, and failure to wear a seatbelt. (In fact, an article in USA Today suggested that those who did venture out driving during the pandemic found less-trafficked, open highways too much of a temptation for risky driving behaviors, such as speeding.)

Types of motorists killed in these accidents include…

  • Passenger vehicle occupants (23,395, up 5%)
  • Pedestrians (6,205, flat from 2019)
  • Motorcyclists (5,015, up 9%)
  • Pedalcyclists (people on bikes) (846, up 5%)

The top causes of accidental deaths on our nation’s roadways included…

  • Occupant ejection (up 20%)
  • Unrestrained occupants of passenger vehicles (up 15%)
  • Crashes on urban interstates (up 15%)
  • Crashes on urban local/collector roads (up 12%)
  • Speeding-related crashes (up 11%)

Maryland also saw an increase in traffic crash fatalities. As of July 19, 2021, Maryland reported 573 motor vehicle accident deaths for 2020 – an increase over the 547 deaths reported in 2019.

Public safety officials and the auto insurance industry have expressed concern over the increase in reckless driving behaviors during the pandemic – which could fuel a deadly trend when driving returns to normal levels once the coronavirus crisis is over.

As always, folks, be careful out there on our Maryland backroads, urban streets and highways.


2020 Fatality Data Show Increased Traffic Fatalities During Pandemic
NHTSA Press Release  June 3, 2021

Maryland Fatality Summary (as of July 19, 2021)
Zero Deaths Maryland > Maryland Crash Data  (collected online Sept. 23, 2021)

Despite Less Driving During 2020 Pandemic, Traffic Deaths Were Highest In 13 Years
Insurance Journal  June 4, 2021

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