Despite most people spending considerably less time on the road during the pandemic, traffic fatality rates were their highest in nearly a century. The National Safety Council estimated that as many as 42,060 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2020, a 24% spike in roadway death rates over the previous 12-month period, despite miles driven dropping 13% in the pandemic.
Media reports cite mainly riskier driving and speeding due to fewer cars on the road as the probable cause of this increase in highway fatalities.
South Dakota, the District of Columbia and Vermont experienced about a one-third increase in traffic deaths in 2020, while Hawaii was down by 20% and Wyoming down by 13%.
Many factors can affect road death rates in each state: population, types of vehicles driven, speeds, licensing rates, state traffic laws, emergency care, weather and topography are the primary ones, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
The data for 2020 are preliminary, but in 2019 there were 33,244 fatal motor vehicle crashes in the U.S., in which 36,096 deaths occurred. This resulted in 11 deaths per 100,000 people nationwide and 1.11 deaths per 100 million miles traveled, according to the IIHS.
This ranking is based on analysis of U.S. Dept. Transportation data by IIHS, and is in order of the highest to lowest rate of deaths per 100,000 population. California, the largest state with 39.5 million people, had the most total deaths in 2019 at 3,606, but a fatality rate of 9.1 per 100,000, ranking No. 36, and another big state, Texas, ranked No. 22 with a rate of 12.5 per 100,000. (Fatality rates per capita and per vehicle miles traveled provide a way of examining motor vehicle deaths relative to the population and amount of driving.)
D.C. had the lowest rate of 3.3 deaths per 100,000, followed by New York and Massachusetts at 4.8.
With the exception of Alaska, California and Texas are also the geographically largest states, and thus log the most miles driven by residents, but South Carolina takes the unfortunate lead of most deaths per million miles driven, even though Californians drive almost six times more.
Here are the 30 states with the most traffic fatalities in 2019, based on deaths per 100,000, according to the IIHS.