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Despite Drop in Traffic Volume, Car Accident Deaths Spiked in 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted life across the entire country. It may have had a disturbing (and still not completely understood) impact on highway safety. Even though people drove a lot less last year, the number of serious car accidents increased. According to data published by the National Safety Council (NSC), 42,060 Americans were killed in motor vehicle collisions last year. That is more than 3,000 more traffic fatalities than were recorded in 2019. Here, our Atlanta car accident lawyers provide an overview of the preliminary traffic safety data for 2020. 

Highest Increase in Roadway Death in Nearly a Century

The car accident fatality rate jumped 24 percent in 2020. It was the single largest spike of the highway death rate in 96 years. Unfortunately, Georgia was one of the worst-performing states for traffic safety in 2020. It saw the eighth highest spike in the total number of highway fatalities. Tragically, 18 percent more people died in motor vehicle collisions in Georgia in 2020 than in 2019. 

Many people were also seriously injured in crashes in 2020. The NSC estimates that 4.8 million Americans suffered traffic accident injuries last year. Those injuries varied widely. While some were relatively minor, far too many were life-altering. 

Vehicle Miles Travelled Were Down More than Ten Percent

The early data from the National Safety Council found that Americans drove approximately 13 percent fewer miles in 2020 than they did in 2019. In the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, many highway safety officials predicted that the drop in driving would result in a lower number of traffic deaths. 

Why Did Car Crashes Increase Last Year?

There are major outstanding questions on what exactly happened on American roadways in 2020. It is not exactly clear as to why the rate of traffic fatalities and catastrophic injuries increased so dramatically. Though, researchers working with the NSC believe that an increase in so-called “risky-driving behaviors” was likely a culprit. They point to three specific risky behaviors that are the highest cause for concern: 

  • Speeding; 
  • Distracted driving; and
  • Intoxicated driving. 

For obvious reasons, 2020 was an unprecedented year. Federal and state regulators and traffic safety advocates will be watching the data closely to determine if 2020 was a one-year “blip” or if it is part of a trend in the wrong direction. Notably, there are some worrying signs. The national traffic fatality rate has been gradually increasing since the mid 2010s. 

Schedule a Free Consultation With an Atlanta Car Accident Lawyer Today 


At Stewart Miller Simmons Trial Attorneys, our Atlanta car accident attorneys are strong advocates for justice. We are focused on helping people maximize your financial compensation. Contact our firm now for a free, strictly confidential review and evaluation of your personal injury case. With a legal office in Atlanta, we fight for the rights of car accident victims throughout the surrounding region, including in Fulton County, Cobb County, DeKalb County, and Gwinnett County.