(AP, WHTM) — 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%.
In comparison, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) said that deaths increased to 1,129 from the record low of 1,059. Roadway deaths were up about 6%, despite a 20% reduction in traffic counts.
“We cannot definitively say why fatalities increased during the COVID-19 pandemic even though it certainly had an impact on traffic volumes statewide,” PennDOT Secretary Yassmin Gramian said.