Car Wreck Deaths Increased Despite Pandemic

04/19/2021 | Auto, Semi & Motorcycle Wrecks

There have been a lot of studies and data on 2020, but the 2020 numbers for wrecks and traffic fatalities have not been published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) yet.  However, NHTSA has released reports on the first half of 2020.  Overall, the news was good, with 2020 roads appearing safer than in 2019, than in 2018, and than in 2017.  The number of people who died in car wrecks in the first half of 2019 was 16,988 and decreased by 2% to 16,650 in the first half of 2020.  However, given the massive changes in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, the data actually may bear out more car wreck deaths on average in 2020, over 2019.

The important piece of information that must be looked at when comparing 2020 statistics is vehicle miles traveled, or VMT.  VMT is a metric the NHTSA uses to more accurately compare vehicle and road safety over time.  In the first half of 2020, deaths per 100 million VMT climbed to 1.25, up from 1.06 in 2019, despite an overall three year decrease in car wreck deaths since 2017. 

Stay-at-home orders went into effect in the second quarter in 2020, which is where we see an even greater increase in deaths per 100 million VMT, increased to 1.42.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s preliminary findings for 2020 indicate since mid-March, more drivers had alcohol or drugs in their systems.  Also, data suggests people are driving faster, at excessive speeds, and not wearing seatbelts. 

The coronavirus pandemic has had effects on just about every aspect of our lives.  We look forward to seeing NHTSA’s full 2020 report and hopefully finding that deaths per VMT has declined in the second half of the year.  Wear your seatbelt and be safe out there.