American traffic fatalities climbed to their highest level since 2007 last year despite the fact that fewer people drove as a result of the pandemic. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data shows that an estimated 38,680 people died in motor vehicle crashes last year, a 7.2 percent increase on the 36,096 fatalities in 2019. That has occurred despite the number of vehicle miles traveled (VMT) declining by approximately 430.2 billion miles, or 13.2 percent.
The NHTSA attributes the alarming trend to a range of behaviours including impaired driving, speeding and a failure to wear a seatbelt. That last factor is evident in the data due to the number of occupant ejection incidents in crashes climbing 20 percent while there was a 15 percent increase in incidents involving the unrestrained occupants of passenger vehicles. Despite the worrying developments, there were some positive trends such as a decrease in crashes involving large trucks while the number of fatalities involving people aged 65+ fell 9 percent.