During The Pandemic Lockdown, Traffic Deaths Soared To The Highest Level In 13 Years Safety regulators say a 7% spike in deaths last year, the biggest increase in 13 years, may have come from drivers speeding and taking other risks on less-congested roads.
NPR logo During The Pandemic Lockdown, Traffic Deaths Soared To The Highest Level In 13 Years

During The Pandemic Lockdown, Traffic Deaths Soared To The Highest Level In 13 Years

Empty highways like this one in Los Angeles during the pandemic year may have enticed drivers to drive less safely and caused a spike in traffic deaths in 2020. Mark J. Terrill/AP hide caption

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Mark J. Terrill/AP

Empty highways like this one in Los Angeles during the pandemic year may have enticed drivers to drive less safely and caused a spike in traffic deaths in 2020.

Mark J. Terrill/AP

DETROIT — U.S. traffic deaths rose 7% last year, the biggest increase in 13 years even though people drove fewer miles due to the coronavirus pandemic, the government's road safety agency reported Thursday.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration blamed the increase on drivers taking more risks on less-congested roads by speeding, failing to wear seat belts, or driving while impaired by drugs or alcohol.

An estimated 38,680 people died in traffic crashes last year, the most of any year since 2007, the agency said in releasing preliminary numbers. Final numbers normally come out in the fall.

The increase came even though the number of miles traveled by vehicle fell 13% from 2019.

Motorcyclist deaths rose 9% last year to 5,015, while bicyclist deaths were up 5% to 846. Pedestrian deaths remained steady at 6,205, and the number of people killed in passenger vehicles rose 5% to 23,395, according to NHTSA.

Deaths involving a large truck fell 2%, while traffic fatalities among people 65 and older fell 9%.