March 3, 2022 1:38 PM, EST

Report: Nearly 39,000 Lives Lost in Traffic Crashes in 2020

Accident scene by Getty ImagesThe number of fatalities in large-truck crashes declined by 6.9%, falling from 893 in 2019 to 832 in 2020. (nojustice/Getty Images)

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A new federal report on 2020 crash data shows that despite fewer miles traveled during the first year of the pandemic, 38,824 lives were lost in overall traffic crashes nationwide. That marks a 6.8% increase and the highest number since 2007, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

However, the number of fatalities in large-truck crashes declined by 6.9%, falling from 893 in 2019 to 832 in 2020. Injuries from large-truck crashes declined by 1.7%, from 45,688 in 2019 to 44,934 in 2020, NHTSA said in the report, made public March 2.

Total vehicle miles traveled by cars and trucks combined decreased by 11% in 2020 compared with the year before.

What Are Large Trucks?

They are defined as commercial and noncommercial trucks with gross vehicle weight rating of over 10,000 pounds. In some reports, the federal government categorizes large trucks as those with GVWR of 26,000 pounds or more.

Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report

The new results estimate that the number of police-reported crashes in 2020 decreased by 22% versus 2019, and the estimated number of people injured in car and truck crashes overall declined by 17%. The fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled increased to 1.34, a 21% rise from 1.11 in 2019, the largest percentage gain on record.

“The rising fatalities on our roadways are a national crisis; we cannot and must not accept these deaths as inevitable,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said. “People should leave the house and know they’re going to get to their destination safely, and with the resources from the bipartisan infrastructure law, plus the policies in the National Roadway Safety Strategy we launched last month, we will do everything we can to save lives on America’s roads.”

People should leave the house and know they’re going to get to their destination safely.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg

Pete Buttigieg

NHTSA Deputy Administrator Steven Cliff said, “The tragic loss of life of people represented by these numbers confirms that we have a deadly crisis on our nation’s roads. While overall traffic crashes and people injured were down in 2020, fatal crashes and fatalities increased. We cannot allow this to become the status quo.”

Said Dan Horvath, American Trucking Associations vice president of safety policy: “Every crash and fatality on the highway is a tragedy. So while it is good to see truck-involved crashes fell, the overall trend in highway fatalities is distressing. We have long believed that driving behaviors like speeding, texting and aggressive driving — behaviors that anecdotally rose during the pandemic — are major contributors to crashes, and this data would support that conclusion.

Dan Horvath, director of safety policy for American Trucking Associations


“We urge federal regulators to do the important work needed to identify the true causes of crashes — particularly truck-involved crashes — and then work with law enforcement to enact strategies to curb these behaviors in motorists.”

Among fatalities in crashes involving large trucks in 2020:

• Nonoccupants killed increased by 52, a 9.1% rise from 2019

• Occupant fatalities in single-vehicle crashes climbed by 14, a 2.8% increase from 2019

• Occupants of other vehicles killed declined by 57, a 1.6% decrease from 2019

• Occupant fatalities in multiple-vehicle crashes decreased by 76, a 19% drop from 2019

• The estimated number of people injured in crashes decreased by 7.8% from 2019

• Occupants injured in single-vehicle crashes increased by 4.1% from 2019

• Injuries in multivehicle crashes decreased by 4.5% from 2019

Meanwhile, on March 2, the National Safety Council released estimates on road fatalities for 2021.


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Calling the numbers “dark and deeply concerning,” NSC said its preliminary estimates for motor vehicle fatalities in 2021 show more than 46,000 people died on U.S. roads, a 9% increase from 2020.

The estimates said that miles traveled rebounded 11% from 2020 lows and only lagged 2019 miles traveled by 1%.

“With the number of vehicles on our roads increasing to pre-pandemic rates, as well as the number of preventable deaths climbing across the country, NSC estimates the death rate in 2021 exceeds the rate in 2019 by 19% at 1.43 deaths per 100 million miles traveled,” NSC said.

NSC President Lorraine Martin


NSC President Lorraine Martin said, “This devastating news serves as yet another wake-up call for this country. We are failing each other, and we must act to prioritize safety for all road users.”

Said National Transportation Safety Board Chair Jennifer Homendy in a March 3 statement: “NHTSA confirms 2020 was the dangerous turning point we all thought it to be — though it was even more devastating than we had feared for pedestrian road users. NSC projections indicate this is far more than a pandemic-induced aberration.”

She added, “Taken together, these reports deliver a one-two punch that begs the question: How many loved ones do we have to lose before we change our approach?”

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