America’s roads are getting more dangerous. Traffic fatalities are up 8% in the last year, even though people drove less throughout the year. Our analysts looked at the latest information on fatal crashes and found that the number of traffic fatalities is up in almost every measurement, especially among young people and people of color.

Key findings:

    • There were 42,060 estimated traffic fatalities in 2020, compared to 39,107 in 2019.
    • Speeding-related deaths increased by 11% in 2020.
    • People ages 25-34 saw the largest increase in traffic fatalities.
    • Traffic fatalities among men and Black people increased by 9% and 23.1% respectively.

The number of people killed on America’s roads increased in almost every state. Traffic fatalities increased by 20% or more in South Dakota, Vermont, Arkansas and Rhode Island. And nearly 250 more people were killed in Georgia and Texas. Hawaii, Wyoming and Delaware had the largest decreases in traffic fatalities.

Traffic fatalities by state
State # of traffic fatalities in 2020 # of traffic fatalities in 2019 change in deaths % change in traffic fatalities from 2019
South Dakota 136 102 34 33.3%
Vermont 62 47 15 31.9%
Arkansas 638 506 132 26.1%
Rhode Island 73 58 15 25.9%
Connecticut 310 254 56 22.0%
Mississippi 736 616 120 19.5%
Georgia 1,729 1,462 267 18.3%
Utah 282 245 37 15.1%
Montana 211 184 27 14.7%
Illinois 1,118 989 129 13.0%
Missouri 985 876 109 12.4%
North Carolina 1,664 1,484 180 12.1%
Maryland 570 509 61 12.0%
Louisiana 805 722 83 11.5%
Indiana 888 803 85 10.6%
New York 963 873 90 10.3%
Nevada 312 284 28 9.9%
Wisconsin 597 549 48 8.7%
Minnesota 395 364 31 8.5%
Texas 3,891 3,586 305 8.5%
Michigan 1,051 973 78 8.0%
Tennessee 1,231 1,148 83 7.2%
Ohio 1,238 1,159 79 6.8%
New Hampshire 108 102 6 5.9%
Washington 546 516 30 5.8%
Kentucky 774 733 41 5.6%
Pennsylvania 1,166 1,107 59 5.3%
Alabama 930 883 47 5.3%
Arizona 1,014 963 51 5.3%
California 3,723 3,540 183 5.2%
Oklahoma 637 607 30 4.9%
Florida 3,511 3,352 159 4.7%
Kansas 427 410 17 4.1%
New Jersey 587 564 23 4.1%
South Carolina 1,025 985 40 4.1%
Virginia 838 821 17 2.1%
West Virginia 263 259 4 1.5%
Massachusetts 342 337 5 1.5%
Colorado 604 596 8 1.3%
Iowa 337 336 1 0.3%
Oregon 490 489 1 0.2%
North Dakota 97 98 -1 -1.0%
Maine 170 172 -2 -1.2%
Alaska 65 67 -2 -3.0%
New Mexico 390 407 -17 -4.2%
Idaho 208 224 -16 -7.1%
Nebraska 226 249 -23 -9.2%
Delaware 118 133 -15 -11.3%
Wyoming 128 147 -19 -12.9%
Hawaii 86 108 -22 -20.4%

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. Overall, the number of speeding-related deaths increased by 11% in 2020.

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%

Demographics

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%

Roadways

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.