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Traffic fatalities rise as nation returns to work

Although vehicle travel across the country dropped during the pandemic, the National Safety Council determined that highway deaths rose by 20 percent during the first six months of the year. The NSC, based on figures for June, anticipates that fatalities from car accidents and other vehicle crashes will surge as the nation reopens.

More deaths per mile

Safety regulators and experts track two types of data concerning traffic fatalities. The total number of people killed in various accidents is one type. The number of deaths for every 100 million miles driven is the second category.

In 2019, there were 36,120 traffic fatalities in this country, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. This was the third consecutive year that traffic deaths fell even as travel increased. This reversed the trend toward more traffic deaths in the middle of the last decade.

The death rate for miles driven, the second type of data, also dropped. It fell from 1.13 per 100 million miles driven in 2018 to 1.10 in 2019.

This improvement screeched to a halt in 2020. According to preliminary data, there was a 20 percent rise in the accident fatality rate. The NSC reported that total traffic deaths rose by one percent even though American motorists drove 17 percent less miles for the first half of this year.

June is disturbing

This increase in accident fatalities continued in June as quarantines were lifted in most states and more Americans began driving again.

Travel was still down by 17 percent for June. However, the NSC found that the fatality rate per 100 million miles surged by an astonishing 34.4 percent. June was also the first month since the beginning of the pandemic that the number of traffic deaths and fatality rate rose in the same month.


The NHTSA has not yet confirmed this data so the NSC is careful about attributing these increases to any causes. However, a NSC spokesperson suggested that motorists drove more recklessly because there were fewer vehicles on the road.

The Governors Highway Safety Administration referred to data showing substantial increases in highways speeds across the nation. Safety experts also cited distracted driving and driving while impaired by alcohol and drugs as causes for the higher rates.

Victims of a reckless or negligent driver may be entitled to compensation for medical expenses and other loses. An attorney can help pursue compensation in court or settlement negotiations.