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Earlier this year, the National Safety Council (NSC) released its preliminary motor vehicle accident data for 2020. Despite a significant disruption in driving due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the total number of highway fatalities surged. More Americans were killed in car crashes in 2020 than in any year since 2007. California was no exception: Highway deaths increased in 2020 in our state even with a drop in total vehicle miles travelled. In this blog post, our Stockton car accident lawyers discuss the alarming spike in catastrophic traffic collisions in 2020. 

A 24 Percent Spike in Highway Fatality Rate—Biggest One-Year Increase in Nearly a Century

The headline from the NSC’s 2020 highway safety report is disheartening: There was a 24 percent jump in the motor vehicle accident fatality rate. It was the single biggest year-over-year increase since all the way back in 1924. For reference, only about 1 in 5 American households even had access to an automobile in the 1920s. 

Large Drop in Driving Did Not Reduce the Number of Fatal Accidents

Of course, 2020 was a unique year for many different reasons. On March 19th, 2020, California Governor Gavin Newsom issued a statewide stay-at-home order. In the following weeks, there was a sharp decline in the total number of automobiles on the road. Though, driving did rebound in the second half of the year. Overall, the National Safety Council estimates that Americans drove around 12 percent fewer miles in 2020 than in 2019. 

On the surface level, you would expect that to be correlated with a decrease in catastrophic & deadly car crashes—but that is not what happened in reality. The NSC estimates that 42,060 people were killed in automobile collisions on U.S. roads in 2020. That is eight percent more highway deaths than occurred in 2019. Given the drop in total driving, that means that car accident fatalities occurred at a 24 percent higher rate in 2020 than in 2019.  

Several Million Americans Were Injured in Car Accidents

Beyond the tragic loss of at least 42,060 lives, there were also many serious car accident injuries reported last year. The NSC’s initial estimate suggests that 4.8 million “road users” were hurt in motor vehicle collisions in 2020 alone. The total cost of car accidents nationwide approaches $500 billion per year. 

41 States Saw an Increase in Highway Fatalities (Including California)

The surge in traffic fatalities was a nationwide public safety crisis in 2020. The National Safety Council estimates that 49 of 50 states endured a higher traffic fatality rate in 2020 than in 2019. The only exception was Hawaii—where the numbers were about flat. Despite an observed decrease in driving in every state because of the COVID-19 pandemic, 41 states actually had more highway deaths in 2020 than in 2019. The biggest jumps were observed in Vermont, South Dakota, Arkansas, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. 

California was in the middle of the pack. According to data published by the California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS), 3,606 people were killed in motor vehicle accidents in the state in 2019. In 2020, that number jumped to 3,723. Alarmingly, California had a longer and more strict stay-at-home order than many other states—meaning there was a sharper decrease in vehicle miles driven in California than there was nationwide. Nonetheless, there was still a 3.2 percent increase in the number of car accident deaths reported on our state’s roads. 

A Hypothesis: An Increase in the Most Risky Driving Behaviors

At this point, there is no single definitive answer as to what happened on our roadways in 2020. In its report, the NSC hypothesizes that there may have been an increase in risky driving behaviors last year. That could explain why there were so many more catastrophic and deadly car crashes. Some of the most unsafe driving behaviors include: 

  • Extreme speeding;
  • Distracted driving; 
  • Texting and driving; 
  • Drunk driving; and
  • Drugged driving. 

Contact Our Stockton, CA Auto Accident Attorneys for Immediate Help

At Redkey Gordon Law Corp, our Stockton car accident lawyers have the professional skills and legal expertise that you can trust. Victims deserve full financial compensation. If you or your family member was involved in a serious crash, we are prepared to get started on working on your behalf. Give us a call at 209-267-4589 or send us a message through our website for a free, fully confidential review of your case. We advocate for the rights of motor vehicle accident victims throughout San Joaquin County, including in Lodi, Tracy, Manteca, Lathrop, Escalon, and Ripon. 


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