Motor Vehicle Fatality Rates Rose 23.5% in May, Despite Quarantines

Even with less traffic, preliminary data show three straight months of riskier roads.

July 21, 2020

Itasca, IL – Preliminary estimates from the National Safety Council based on May data from all 50 states indicate that for the third month in a row, road users in the U.S. were at a higher risk of dying from a motor vehicle crash. As reported in Injury Facts, the fatality rate per miles driven in May – when most of the country was deep in quarantine from the pandemic – jumped a staggering 23.5% compared to the previous year, despite far less traffic on the roads. The number of miles driven in May dropped 25.5% compared to the year prior. The increased rate comes in spite of an estimated 8% drop in the number of deaths for May compared to the prior year. Overall, the mileage death rate per 100 million vehicle miles driven was 1.47 in May compared to 1.19 in 2019.

At a moment when the country should be reaping a safety benefit from less traffic, the roads are riskier, threatening to reverse traffic safety gains made over the last few years. After three straight years of rising fatality numbers between 2015 and 2017, the country had been experiencing a leveling off and small decline in overall fatalities. Further, employers are sending employees back to work, meaning commutes are resuming – and motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of workplace deaths.

In response to the preliminary estimates, and to help employers navigate the uncertainty, NSC – with input from its SAFER task force – developed recommendations and guidance for providing safe routes to work and enhancing transportation safety on the job. The new resource includes information about why employers should prioritize roadway safety during COVID-19 and beyond.

NSC also hosted a virtual roundtable discussion at 12:30 p.m. ET today alongside NHTSA, GHSA and AAA to discuss the state of traffic safety and what must be done.

"As motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of workplace fatalities, transportation safety should be integral to every organization," said Lorraine M. Martin, NSC president and CEO. "An employer’s reopening strategy is an opportunity to emphasize and reiterate the need for safe streets, as well as safe workplace transportation. Employers can make a real difference in improving safety on our roadways, helping to protect their employees, as well as other road users."

Through the first five months of 2020, the following six states experienced notable increases in the number of roadway deaths: New Hampshire (63%), Connecticut (39%), Louisiana (15%), Missouri (12%), Arkansas (10%) and North Carolina (6%).

Nine states with notable decreases were: Tennessee (-58%), Wyoming (-52%), Mississippi (-21%), Maryland (-18%), Michigan (-13%), South Carolina (-13%), Pennsylvania (-13%), Arizona (-10%) and Florida (-4%).

To help further ensure the safety of U.S. roads, particularly now that many states have reopened and traffic is increasing again, NSC urges motorists to:

  • Obey speed limits, even if roads are clear and traffic is light
  • Practice defensive driving; buckle up, designate a sober driver or arrange alternative transportation, get plenty of sleep to avoid fatigue and drive attentively, avoiding distractions
  • Stay engaged with teen drivers’ habits and practice with them frequently – tips are available at DriveitHOME.org
  • Follow state and local directives and stay off the roads if officials have directed you do to so; many states asked drivers to shelter in place and stay off the roads except in emergency situations or for essential errands
  • Be aware of increased pedestrian and bicycle traffic, particularly in urban areas, and pedestrians and bicyclists should remember that streets are getting congested again, and vulnerable roadway users need to be careful
  • Organizations and employers are encouraged to join the Road to Zero Coalition, a 1,500-member group committed to eliminating roadway deaths by 2050

The National Safety Council has tracked motor vehicle fatality trends and issued estimates for nearly 100 years. All estimates are subject to slight increases and decreases as the data mature. NSC collects fatality data every month from all 50 states and the District of Columbia and uses data from the National Center for Health Statistics, so that deaths occurring within one year of the crash and on both public and private roadways – such as parking lots and driveways – are included in the estimates. NSC motor vehicle fatality estimates and supplemental estimate information, including estimates for each state, can be found here.

About the National Safety Council
The National Safety Council is America’s leading nonprofit safety advocate – and has been for over 100 years. As a mission-based organization, we work to eliminate the leading causes of preventable death and injury, focusing our efforts on the workplace, roadway and impairment. We create a culture of safety to not only keep people safer at work, but also beyond the workplace so they can live their fullest lives.

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