Forbes, Tanya Mohn, March 4, 2021

Roads have been emptier since Covid-19. They’ve also been deadlier.

The number of people who died in motor vehicle crashes in 2020 is estimated to be the highest in 13 years, despite the fact that there has been a dramatic drop in miles driven.  Those lost lives represent a 24% spike in the road crash death rate from 2019, the biggest increase in 96 years, since 1924.

Those are the highlights of a new analysis of preliminary data released on Thursday by the National Safety Council, a nonprofit advocacy group, that indicated an estimated 42,060 people died in traffic crashes in 2020, an 8% increase over 2019, a year where people drove much less (13%) frequently due to the pandemic.

“It is tragic that in the U.S., we took cars off the roads and didn’t reap any safety benefits,”  Lorraine M. Martin, president and chief executive of the National Safety Council, said in a statement. “These data expose our lack of an effective roadway safety culture. It is past time to address roadway safety holistically and effectively, and NSC stands ready to assist all stakeholders, including the federal government.”

Overall, due to “the alarming picture painted by these data,” the National Safety Council along with more than 1,500 other organizations and individuals, wrote to President Joe Biden and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg urging the new administration to commit to zero roadway deaths.  

The first step toward that goal, the safety group said, is to “double down” on a series of live-saving measures that are known to work. These include:

  • Implementing safety laws, policies, and infrastructure improvements widely and equitably;
  • Making ignition interlocks mandatory for convicted drunk drivers, lowering state blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels to .05 and improving education about impairment;
  • Lowering speed limits;
  • Increasing automated enforcement;
  • Passing laws banning all cell phone use – including hands-free – for all drivers, not just teens;
  • Upgrading seat belt laws from secondary to primary enforcement and extending restraint laws to every passenger in every seating position, in all vehicles;
  • Expanding graduated driver licensing to all new drivers under 21;
  • Standardizing and accelerating the use of Automated Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS);
  • Passing or reinstating motorcycle helmet laws; and
  • Adopting comprehensive programs for pedestrian and bicyclist safety in all communities and municipalities.

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