Despite Lower Travel Volumes During Pandemic, Motor Vehicle Fatalities Increase 6.4% in 2020

April 13, 2021

569 Lives Lost on Maryland Roadways, Including 134 Pedestrians and 14 Bicyclists; Distraction, Impairment and Excessive Speed Continue to be Major Factors in Crashes

Despite fewer drivers on the road due to the COVID-19 pandemic, motor vehicle crashes on Maryland roadways claimed 569 lives in 2020, an increase of 6.4% compared to 535 deaths the previous year.

Preliminary data released today by the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) also shows an increase in pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities, from 124 and 10 in 2019 to 134 and 14 in 2020, respectively. Overall crashes and serious injuries decreased, but crashes in 2020 were more severe, contributing to the rise in roadway fatalities. The total number of fatalities was the highest in Maryland since 2008, when the state experienced 592 highway deaths.

“Not only did Maryland tragically lose thousands of lives in 2020 to COVID-19, but we lost an additional 569 lives from motor vehicle crashes,” MDOT Secretary Greg Slater said. “These losses are unnecessary and unacceptable. They represent men, women and children whose lives were cut short way too soon – our family members, friends, neighbors and coworkers. Simple actions such as slowing down, driving sober, putting the phone down and wearing a seat belt could have prevented these tragedies.”

Average vehicle traffic volumes in Maryland dropped more than 50% in April 2020 compared to 2019 and remain down about 11% as citizens and businesses heed Governor Larry Hogan’s support for work-from-home practices for those who can. Despite the decrease in vehicle miles traveled in 2020 during the pandemic, initial police reports show increased speed, increased instances of impairment and lower seat belt use as the most common contributing factors in motor vehicle fatalities.

The reduced number miles traveled during the pandemic, combined with the higher number of fatalities, also impacted Maryland’s overall fatality rate. In 2019, the state experienced 60.1 billion vehicle miles traveled, and with 535 fatalities that year the fatality rate was .89 deaths per every 100 million vehicle miles traveled. In 2020, vehicle miles fell to 51.3 billion statewide – a 14.5% decrease. With 569 fatalities, the rate of deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled rose on 2020 to 1.108.

“It’s unfortunate that as our state dealt with the challenges of a pandemic this past year, there were drivers who disregarded their own safety and the safety of others, and took advantage of a decreased traffic volume to increase speed and related dangerous driving behaviors,” Maryland State Police Superintendent Colonel Woodrow W. Jones III said. “The men and women of the Maryland State Police will not relent in their efforts to reduce this surge in traffic fatalities by using data-driven strategies to strictly enforce our traffic laws.  I urge drivers statewide to do their part to help us make our roads safe.”

In August 2020, the MDOT Motor Vehicle Administration’s (MDOT MVA) Highway Safety Office conducted its annual Roadside Observation Seat Belt Survey at 130 select sites in 13 jurisdictions. The survey observed more than 48,500 vehicles and found 89.9% of front seat occupants were observed using a seat belt – a decrease from 90.4% and 90.3% in 2019 and 2018, respectively.

“Every year we see the same factors contributing to roadways fatalities: speed, distractions, impairment and lack of seat belt use. As a community, we must challenge each and every person to take responsibility when they get in a vehicle or travel on our roadways,” said MDOT MVA Administrator Chrissy Nizer, who also serves as Governor Hogan’s Highway Safety Representative. “Highway safety partners across the state are committed to saving lives, but it’s going to take action by every Marylander to end these tragedies and reach our goal of zero fatalities and serious injuries by 2030.”


MDOT MVA’s Highway Safety Office recently launched an overarching highway safety campaign targeting areas of concern and focusing on safe driving behaviors. Eliminating motor vehicle crashes and serious injuries on Maryland roadways starts with every traveler following a few simple steps to Be the Driver who saves lives:

  • Be the MAKE A PLAN Driver and Be the SOBER Driver: One-third of fatalities and serious injuries on Maryland roadways involve an impaired driver. Designate a sober driver, be the sober driver or make a plan for a safe and sober ride home through a taxi, a rideshare service or public transportation.
  • Be the SLOW DOWN Driver: Many crashes occur when drivers exceed the speed limit or drive too fast for the conditions. Leave a few minutes early and take some extra time to get to your destination.
  • Be the BUCKLED UP Driver: In 2019, 109 motor vehicle occupants killed in crashes on Maryland roads were not wearing seat belts. Seat belts are one of the best ways to preserve life in a crash.
  • Be the FOCUSED Driver: Maryland law forbids talking or texting on a handheld phone while driving, including while stopped at a traffic light. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for five seconds. At a speed of 55 mph, that equates to traveling the length of a football field blindfolded.
  • Be the SHARE THE ROAD Driver: Drivers, cyclists and pedestrians must look up and look out for one another and obey traffic laws and signals. Always stop for pedestrians in crosswalks, marked and unmarked, and give bicyclists at least 3 feet of space when passing.
  • Be the LOOK TWICE Driver: The average car has multiple blind spots, which can make it challenging to spot a motorcycle. Drivers should remember to look twice and signal their intention before switching lanes, so motorcyclists have ample time to react.

In January, MDOT announced implementation of the 2021-2025 Strategic Highway Safety Plan (SHSP), the latest update of Maryland’s five-year plan to identify strategies and actions to eliminate fatalities on state roadways. The SHSP uses the “four Es” – education, engineering, enforcement and emergency medical services – as the foundation of lifesaving efforts to address major areas of traffic safety: aggressive, impaired and distracted driving, highway infrastructure, seat belt use and pedestrian and bicyclist safety. Local jurisdictions are encouraged to develop their own SHSP suited to specific concerns in each jurisdiction.

In addition, the MDOT State Highway Administration (MDOT SHA) recently launched a new, interactive web portal for its updated Context Driven Guide, an innovative planning and design resource that offers guidelines to create safe and effective transportation systems for all users – motorists, transit users, pedestrians, bicyclists and those with mobility challenges. Using the tools and processes outlined in this guide, MDOT SHA is striking a balance between land-use, the community setting and the mobility needs of local and regional travelers. The guide is also used to help MDOT SHA address connectivity challenges throughout Maryland.

Learn more about the MDOT MVA’s Highway Safety Office’s commitment to zero deaths on Maryland roadways at and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram at @zerodeathsmd.