It’s been thirteen long years—2007—since the roadways of America have killed as many people as it did in 2020. According to the National Safety Council as many as 42,060 people died last year, despite a pandemic-induced reduction in driving for most of us. Car crashes killed eight percent more people in 2020 than in 2019, despite miles driven plunging by 13 percent! Every time you drove in 2020, you were 24 percent more likely to die.
As has been proven time and time again, many Americans took the relatively lightly trafficked roads of a country in the throes of a pandemic as an opportunity to go faster and pay less attention. I know it’s only anecdotal, but my experience with American highways has been frightening these last 12 months. High speed heavyweights swerving lanes inches from bumpers while others thumb through their phone with the radar cruise set to 95.
In addition to increased deaths, some 4.8 million people were seriously injured on roadways in 2020. What does all of that metal-on-metal-on-flesh contact cost us as a society? An extra $474 billion.
“It is tragic that in the U.S., we took cars off the roads and didn’t reap any safety benefits,” said Lorraine M. Martin, president and CEO of the National Safety Council. “These data expose our lack of an effective roadway safety culture. It is past time to address roadway safety holistically and effectively, and NSC stands ready to assist all stakeholders, including the federal government.”
While nine states—Alaska (-3%), Delaware (-11%), Hawaii (-20%), Idaho (-7%), Maine (-1%), Nebraska (-9%), New Mexico (-4%), North Dakota (-1%) and Wyoming (-13%)—did what they could to reduce traffic deaths, the remaining 41 saw death numbers stagnant or increased from 2019. A full 33 percent more people were killed on South Dakota roadways in 2020 than the previous year.
NSC recommends a few things we can do as a nation, as a community, as a group of people looking to reduce the number of dead and injured drivers in 2021. Lowering speed limits, mandating ignition interlocks for convicted drunk drivers, laws banning cell phone use (including hands-free devices), increased strength seat belt laws, standardized ADAS systems, motorcycle helmet mandates, comprehensive pedestrian and cyclist protection, and investment in roadway infrastructure, among many other things, would drastically reduce roadway deaths.
This was the worst increase in motor vehicle deaths year over year in nearly 100 years. There hasn’t been a boom in vehicle deaths like this since cars began to drastically increase in speed in 1924.
Stay safe out there, folks. It’s a rough one. And please slow it down a little. Getting there a few minutes late is better than never getting there at all. Or worse, taking another life.