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Road Traffic Fatality Rates Spike in 2020

Despite quarantines, stay-at-home orders, and a 17 percent drop in the number of miles driven between January and June 2020, the United States saw a 20 percent jump in motor vehicle deaths in the first half of 2020, according to preliminary data from the National Safety Council. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that 16,650 people died in motor vehicle crashes in the first half of 2020, driving up the fatality rate to 1.25 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled.

“Because of COVID-19 and states’ shelter-in-place orders earlier this year, the country should have reaped a safety benefit from less traffic,” said National Safety Council President and CEO Lorraine Martin. “Instead, our soaring rate of deaths speaks to our need to improve safety on our roads. Clearly, we must work harder as a society to reverse this trend, especially since the pandemic is not nearly over.”

NHTSA researchers found that dur­ing the height of the COVID-19 pan­demic in the United States, driving pattens and behaviors turned risky—speeding, failing to wear seatbelts, and driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. In a study of seriously or fatally injured road users at five trauma centers between mid-March and mid-July, almost two-thirds of drivers tested positive for at least one active drug, including alcohol, marijuana, or opioids. The number of drivers testing positive for opioids nearly doubled after mid-March, and marijuana use increased by almost half.