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Car-Crash Death Rate Surged in 2020

Less traffic but more traffic deaths.
January 20, 2021

As stay-at-home orders were issued last year to reduce COVID-19’s spread, roads cleared of congestion. Historically, economic downturns have led to fewer vehicle miles traveled as well as lower rates of motor-vehicle deaths, but last year took a different turn.

Nationally, vehicle miles traveled dropped an unprecedented 264.2 billion miles over the first half of 2020, a decline of 17 percent compared with the first half of 2019, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Over the same period, the agency estimated the number of fatalities shrank 2 percent to 16,650 from 16,988. But the rate of fatalities grew 18 percent, rising to 1.25 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, up from 1.06. Experts say an inordinate number of people died given how many fewer miles they traveled and marked the highest motor-vehicle fatality rate for that span of time in a dozen years.

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