Traffic fatalities down in first quarter of 2020

July 2, 2020

Tyson Fisher


There has been some unexpected good news as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that traffic fatalities went down in the first quarter of 2020.”

NHTSA recently released its early estimate of traffic fatalities for January through March. According to preliminary numbers, traffic deaths are down about 1% compared to the first quarter of 2019. In the first three months, an estimated 7,780 people were killed in traffic crashes. There were 7,850 traffic fatalities in the first three months of 2019.

There is usually a positive correlation with traffic fatalities and vehicle miles traveled. In this case, vehicle miles traveled were down 5.4% or 40.1 billion miles. Decreases in VMT and traffic deaths are likely partly attributable to stay-at-home orders across the nation that began in March. Per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, traffic fatalities are actually up to 1.10 deaths from 1.05 in 2019.

NHTSA broke down the numbers by month to get a better understanding of the effects of stay-at-home orders in March. The number of traffic fatalities in January were the same as the previous year. In February, traffic deaths dropped by more than 8% compared with February 2019. However, traffic fatalities decreased by nearly 10% in March.

Per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, traffic fatalities increased each month.

The rate for January was 1.04, followed by 1.12 in February and 1.14 in March. In 2019, the rates were 1.07 in January, 1.06 in February and 1.03 in March.

Although fewer people were killed on the nations roadways, the per 100 million vehicle miles traveled increase suggests that the roads were slightly more dangerous for the motorists still driving through stay-at-home orders. Several states, including California, reported a decrease in crashes and traffic fatalities during the peak of stay-at-home orders.

However, motorists have been putting the pedal to the metal on the relatively empty roadways. In several states, the increased speeds have increased the severity of the fewer crashes. According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, crashes and fatalities have more than doubled in Minnesota. That is compared with the same time frame in previous years. Half of those fatalities were related to reckless driving, including speeding.

Numbers for both 2019 and 2020 are only projections and not final. Official traffic fatalities stats for 2019 are expected to be published later this year. First quarter estimates for 2020 will be further refined when the projections for the first half of 2020 are released in late September.

Tyson Fisher

Tyson Fisher joined Land Line Magazine in March 2014. An award-winning journalist and tireless researcher, his news reports, features and blogs bring depth to our editorial content, backed with solid detail. Tyson is a lifelong Kansas Citian.