When the coronavirus pandemic infiltrated the United States more than a year ago, motor vehicle traffic plummeted in Houston and other major cities. As millions worked from home or lost their jobs, safety experts thought one silver lining would emerge – fewer traffic deaths.
However, much the same as deaths from COVID-19 grew exponentially, preliminary data from the National Safety Council (NSC) suggests the U.S. traffic fatality rate grew by 24% compared to 2019, as motorists drove faster and more recklessly with fewer vehicles on the road.
The fatality rate grew at the fastest pace in nearly 100 years
According to the NSC statistics, 42,060 people died on American highways in 2020 – 8% more than the year before. That happened while the total number of miles traveled by drivers fell by 13%, which translates to a 24% increase in the traffic fatality rate – the largest spike since 1924.
According to traffic data, surging speeds are the most likely cause of the increase in fatal crashes. Data shows the nation’s largest urban areas saw speeds increase by an average of 35%. Houston and Dallas saw increases of nearly 25%, while San Antonio’s was slightly higher.
Recklessness also increased in 2020
In addition to drivers going faster, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports motorists engaged in risky and often deadly behavior. The NHTSA saw numerous instances where crash victims tested positive for drugs and alcohol, and fewer were wearing seat belts.
Arrests for reckless driving and speeding were also at a high in 2020. These factors are all underscored by statistics showing that while traffic deaths surged, the total number of crashes declined. Safety experts say that proves how dangerous speed can be to everyone on the road.