Why Did the Car Crash Death Rate Surge in 2020?
Auto Accidents / 03.12.2021
During the first half of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic left the streets of many major cities looking almost deserted. With lockdowns in full force, traffic volume declined dramatically.
Counterintuitively, however, deaths from car crashes surged last year.
The reason appears to be simple: Speed demons can’t resist taking advantage of the open roads.
According to the Wall Street Journal:
“From April 1 to May 21, Minnesota State Patrol ticketed 232 drivers for going more than 100 mph. By the end of the year, troopers had issued more than 1,000 citations for going that fast—around double the number from the previous year. The top speed in the state, recorded on a citation written in October, was 153 mph.”
Minnesota was hardly alone in facing more traffic fatalities. Louisiana and other states are also reporting much larger spikes in road deaths in 2020.
Sam Schwartz, a traffic engineering firm, analyzed volumes of publicly available traffic accident data to establish that the death rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled was 1.15 for the first six months of 2020, up from 1.02 during the same period last year. That’s an increase of 12.7 percent.
The numbers from 2020 are especially eyebrow-raising given that they come after years of sustained improvement. According to the National Highway Safety Administration, traffic fatalities declined in 2019 by two-percent, even though the number of total vehicle miles traveled in the U.S. increased by one-percent. The fatality rate in 2019 was the lowest in half a decade.
Seat Belt Use Declines While Illegal Drug Use Rises
Another troubling trend over the last year is a decline in seat belt usage. A new report from the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) shows that seat belt use declined in the months following the COVID-19 pandemic. The report showed that seat belt use dropped by as much as 16-percent, resulting in more passengers suffering injuries from vehicle ejections. Such incidents increased by 50-percent in the months after the pandemic.
While it is impossible to say with certainty why this drop in seat belt compliance occurred, it may be that some motorists felt safer on roads with less traffic. However, that perception was not aligned with reality.
In addition to reckless driving leading to more accidents post-COVID, the NHTSA report also indicates that a greater number of motorists were traveling under the influence of narcotics. The report showed that injured drivers or passengers treated at trauma centers were testing positive for opioids at double the rate they had been prior to the pandemic. Marijuana tests were coming back positive at a 50-percent higher rate.
The NHTSA closed its report with a plea for motorists to reverse the deadly trends of 2020 by driving more cautiously and wearing seat belts whenever necessary.
Driving With Renewed Caution
As the COVID-19 pandemic becomes more controlled and streets return to normal, the opportunity for fast and reckless driving is likely to abate.
Until we get to that point, however, motorists are urged to drive with caution. Hospitals are still overwhelmed due to the pandemic — and jails are also dealing with serious COVID-related issues of their own.
This means there has never been a better time to obey the rules of the road — or to hire an experienced attorney if you have been victimized by the negligence of someone driving too fast and too recklessly.
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