America’s roads are getting more dangerous. Traffic fatalities went up 8% in 2020, and in many states, 2021 is turning out to be even more deadly. Our analysts looked at the latest information on fatal crashes and found that the number of traffic fatalities is up across almost every measurement, especially among young people and people of color.

Key findings:

  • Traffic fatalities increased by 16% in the first half of 2021.
  • Oregon, South Dakota and Mississippi each experienced a 50% increase in fatalities.
  • People ages 25-34 saw the largest increase in traffic fatalities.
  • Speeding-related deaths increased by 11% in 2020.
  • Traffic fatalities among men and Black people increased by 9% and 23% respectively.

Traffic fatalities in 2021

The number of people killed on America’s roads increased by 16% in the first half of 2021. This increase, though, varies greatly from state to state. Traffic fatalities increased by 20% in 18 states and by more than 50% in Oregon, South Dakota and Mississippi.

Even more concerning is that this increase in traffic fatalities is happening after a particularly deadly year. Traffic fatalities reached a 13-year high in 2020 when 42,000 people died on America’s roads. And when compared to 2019 statistics, Vermont and South Dakota have experienced increases of 100% or more in fatalities.

Traffic fatalities by state
State # of traffic fatalities, first half of 2020 # of traffic fatalities, first half of 2021 % change in fatalities from 2020 % change in fatalities from 2019
Alabama 411 487 18% 9%
Alaska 24 22 -8% -37%
Arizona 470 597 27% 23%
Arkansas 294 323 10% 33%
California 1,523 1,848 21% 20%
Colorado 250 288 15% 16%
Connecticut 148 147 -1% 43%
Delaware 47 53 13% 18%
Florida 1,716 1,818 6% 5%
Georgia 708 911 29% 24%
Hawaii 43 44 2% -25%
Idaho 77 107 39% 16%
Illinois 442 543 23% 28%
Indiana 381 415 9% 21%
Iowa 113 145 28% -2%
Kansas 206 166 -19% -18%
Kentucky 327 370 13% 8%
Louisiana 384 431 12% 28%
Maine 69 54 -22% -29%
Maryland 207 240 16% 7%
Massachusetts 163 178 9% 14%
Michigan 427 523 22% 24%
Minnesota 150 211 41% 39%
Mississippi 204 319 56% 24%
Missouri 445 476 7% 26%
Montana 85 104 22% 41%
Nebraska 101 104 3% -5%
Nevada 131 181 38% 44%
New Hampshire 45 51 13% 21%
New Jersey 238 262 10% 6%
New Mexico 190 211 11% 8%
New York 351 398 13% 19%
North Carolina 717 855 19% 23%
North Dakota 36 46 28% 2%
Ohio 496 601 21% 19%
Oklahoma 268 317 18% 21%
Oregon 173 261 51% 22%
Pennsylvania 513 536 4% -4%
Rhode Island 34 32 -6% 23%
South Carolina 450 515 14% 12%
South Dakota 43 65 51% 103%
Tennessee 526 682 30% 28%
Texas 1,765 2,063 17% 20%
Utah 110 150 36% 47%
Vermont 21 28 33% 155%
Virginia 378 403 7% 5%
Washington 236 249 6% 5%
West Virginia 120 124 3% 8%
Wisconsin 244 242 -1% 5%
Wyoming 41 46 12% -43%
United States 18,480 21,450 16% 17%

The increase in traffic fatalities is closely tied to the COVID-19 pandemic. The first statewide coronavirus lockdowns went into effect in March of 2020, which is when we start to see an increase in the number of speeding-related deaths. This increase becomes even more pronounced during the summer, before declining toward the end of 2020. Speeding-related statistics are not yet available for 2021, but overall, the number of speeding-related deaths increased by 11% in 2020 while the total number of miles driven went down.

The increased number of speeding-related deaths is even more telling when broken down by region. We found that states in the northeast and south had the largest increases in speeding-related deaths, while the western half of the country saw declines of between 3% and 11%.

Speeding-related deaths by region
Region States in region # of speeding-related deaths in 2020% change from 2019 % change from 2019
Region 1 Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont 218 -0.90%
Region 2 New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands 1060 21.00%
Region 3 Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia 1,111 20.40%
Region 4 Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee 1,571 11.00%
Region 5 Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin 1,527 9.10%
Region 6 Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas 2,018 25.50%
Region 7 Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska 771 11.90%
Region 8 Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, Wyoming 538 9.60%
Region 9 Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada 1,271 -11.40%
Region 10 Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, Washington 410 -3.10%

Demographic breakdown of fatal crashes

Young people, people of color and men have been disproportionately affected by the increase in fatal crashes over the last year. The number of traffic fatalities rose by 13% among people under 24, 23% among Black people and 9% in men. Older Americans and people of Asian or Pacific Islander descent, however, showed a decrease in total number of traffic fatalities.

Traffic fatalities by demographic
Race # of traffic fatalities in 2020 % change since 2019
White 29,092 3.7%
Black 7,494 23.1%
American-Indian 645 10.6%
Asian/Pascific Islander 565 -28.7%
All other races 884 54.3%

Most dangerous types of roads

The type of roadway and method of transportation can have a substantial impact on the severity of a crash. City highways and rural roads saw the most fatal crashes, while fatalities involving motorcycles or alcohol increased by nearly 10%. The number of fatalities involving large trucks decreased by 2%, but with nearly 4,900 people killed in 2020, the number of fatal crashes involving large trucks is still well above numbers from the early 2010s when around 3,500 people were killed.

Traffic fatalities by roadway
Roadway # of traffic fatalities in 2020 % change since 2019
Rural interstate 2,049 3.10%
Urban interstate 3,080 14.70%
Rural arterial 7,898 3.10%
Urban arterial 13,397 5.00%
Rural collector/local 7,524 11.40%
Urban collector/local 4,735 11.60%
Traffic fatalities by type
Type # of traffic fatalities in 2020 % change since 2019
Motorcycle 5,458 8.80%
Pedestrians 6,236 0.50%
Pedalcyclists 891 5.30%
Involving large trucks 4,895 -2.20%
Alcohol-involved 7,324 9.20%
Single-vehicle 21,596 9.40%
Multi-vehicle 17,084 4.40%
Departure 18,553 3.40%
On-road 20,126 10.80%

The National Safety Council estimates that 42,060 people died on America’s roadways in 2020. That’s the highest number of fatalities since 2007 and it comes at an unexpected time. Americans drove 430 billion fewer miles in 2020. Traffic volume dropped 13.2% in 2020 but the fatality rate per miles driven increased by nearly 24%.

What’s behind the alarming increase in traffic fatalities? Factors vary for every crash, but the data points to young drivers going too fast on less-congested roadways. Speeding-related deaths began increasing in March, right as the first lockdowns were put in place and traffic volume started to decline. Drivers under the age of 34 had the largest increase in traffic fatalities. And single-vehicle crashes on urban highways increased by 9% and 14%, respectively.

There are signs, however, that the sharp increase in fatal crashes will be a temporary trend. The number of traffic fatalities has steadily decreased since the 1970s. And when we look at the second half of 2020, the number of fatal crashes decreased or remained at 2019 levels for the same month.

Methodology

Traffic fatality data was sourced from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and National Safety Council (NSC). NSC data was used to calculate the number of deaths in each state in 2019 and 2020. To calculate the number of speeding-related deaths, we took the total number of deaths for each monthly period and multiplied it by the percentage of speeding-related deaths provided by the NHTSA. Definitions for types of fatalities and roadway categories follow NHTSA guidelines.

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