Last year was an unusual one for motor vehicle deaths. COVID-19 pushed miles driven in America down by 13% to 2.830 billion miles. However, the number of fatal car accidents rose by 8% from 2019 to 42,060, according to the National Safety Council (NSC). That means deaths per vehicle miles driven jumped sharply by 24% to 1.49.
While the figures for the latter part of 2020 remain an estimate, it is clear that there is a radical difference in fatal car accidents from state to state and in the District of Columbia.
The rise in the 2020 nationwide number was due in part to the fact that the number of fatal car accidents dropped in so few states. NSC data shows these figures were lower in Hawaii (−20%, 22 fewer deaths), Wyoming (−13%, 19 fewer), Delaware (−11%, 15 fewer), Nebraska (−9%, 23 fewer), Idaho (−7%, 16 fewer), New Mexico (−4%, 17 fewer), Alaska (−3%, two fewer), Maine (−1%, two fewer) and North Dakota (−1%, one fewer). While most of the states are sparsely populated, Delaware is an exception. It is among the most densely populated states. Also, the total deaths are small enough in some states so that using them to create a pattern could be misleading.
The states where fatal car accidents surged were South Dakota (+33%, 34 more deaths), the District of Columbia (+33%, nine more), Vermont (+32%, 15 more), Rhode Island (+26%, 15 more), Arkansas (+26%, 132 more), Connecticut (+22%, 56 more), Mississippi (+19%, 120 more) and Georgia (+18%, 267 more). These states tend to be more densely populated. However, that is not the case for the state with the sharpest rise, South Dakota. Mississippi and Arkansas also are not densely populated.
What the data do not show is what may affect these numbers substantially. Drunk driving is among these. So are speed limits, and perhaps driver ages.
What the numbers do show is unexpected. The pandemic should, in theory, have driven down the number of driving fatalities, but the opposite turned out to be true.