Life changed in many ways because of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. In addition to the 350,831 COVID-19 deaths, preventable injury related deaths also experienced a dramatic increase in 2020. One component of this increase was motor-vehicle deaths. Roads became less safe in 2020 for a variety of reasons, including an increase in non-restrained occupant deaths, speeding, and alcohol impaired fatal crashes.  After three consecutive years of decreases, deaths increased 8.3%; 42,338 people died in motor-vehicle crashes in 2020 compared to 39,107 in 2019.

However, even with this spike in deaths, between 1913 and 2020 motor-vehicle deaths per 10,000 registered vehicles decreased 95%, from 33 to 1.53, respectively. In 1913, only 1.3 million vehicles were registered, and 4,200 people died on the road. In 2020, 276 million vehicles were registered and 42,338 people died on the road.

In 2020 compared to 2019, miles traveled decreased 11%, the number of registered vehicles slipped 0.2%, and the population grew 0.4%. As a result, the mileage death rate increased 21.7%, the vehicle death rate increased 8.5%, and the population death rate jumped 7.9%.

Medically consulted injuries in motor-vehicle incidents totaled 4.8 million in 2020, and total motor-vehicle injury costs were estimated at $473.2 billion. Costs include wage and productivity lossesmedical expensesadministrative expensesmotor-vehicle property damage, and employer costs.

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Compared to 2011, 2020 motor-vehicle deaths increased by more than 19% while the mileage death rate has increased by more than 21% and the vehicle registration death rate increased 10%.

2020 motor-vehicle crash highlights

Deaths 42,338
Medically consulted injuries 4.8 million
Cost $473.2 billion
Motor-vehicle mileage 2,904 billion
Registered vehicles in the United States 276 million
Licensed drivers in the United States 228 million
Death rate per 100 million vehicle miles 1.46
Death rate per 10,000 registered vehicles 1.53
Death rate per 100,000 population 12.85

The National Safety Council (NSC) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) count motor-vehicle crash deaths using somewhat different criteria. NSC counts total motor-vehicle-related fatalities – both traffic and non-traffic – that occur within one year of the crash. This is consistent with the data compiled from death certificates by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). NSC uses NCHS death certificate data, less intentional fatalities, as the final count of unintentional deaths from all causes.

NHTSA counts only traffic fatalities that occur within 30 days of the crash in its Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS). This omits about 800 to 1,000 motor-vehicle-related deaths each year that occur more than 30 days after the crash. Non-traffic fatalities – those that occur in parking lots, private roads, and driveways and account for 900 to 1,900 deaths annually – are also omitted. By using a 30-day cutoff, NHTSA can issue a “final” count about eight months after the reference year.

Provided below is a summary of NSC and NHTSA traffic crash data for 2020:

Motor-vehicle crash outcomes, United States, 2020

NSC estimates:

Severity Deaths or injuries Crashes Drivers (vehicles) involved
Total Motor Vehicle (deaths within 1 year) 42,339 39,000 58,800
Medically consulted injury 4,800,000 3,400,000 6,100,000
Property damage (including unreported) and non-disabling injury 7,900,000 13,600,000
Total  – 11,300,000 19,800,000

NHTSA estimates:

Severity Deaths or injuries Crashes Drivers (vehicles) involved
Traffic (deaths within 30 days) 38,824 35,766 53,890
Injury (disabling and non-disabling) 2,260,000 1,593,000 2,841,000
Police-reported property damage 3,622,000 6,231,000
Total 5,251,000 9,126,000

Source: NHTSA for deaths, injuries, and crashes in bottom half of table. All other figures are NSC estimates.