While fewer vehicles were on the road during most of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, motor vehicle accidents and fatalities saw a disturbing increase – the highest in over a decade.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says crash deaths rose by 7.2% in 2020 compared to 2019 despite a 13% drop in the number of miles driven in the U.S.
A deadly trend continues
The NHTSA released new preliminary data this month showing traffic deaths also increased in the first three months of 2021 compared to 2020. The key takeaways are:
- 8,730 people died in crashes in the first quarter, compared to 7,900 during the same period last year
- That represents a 10.5% increase despite a 2.1% drop in miles driven
The number of motor vehicle deaths from April 2020 to March 2021 is the highest since 2007.
Careless behavior blamed as deaths soar
Safety advocates attribute the escalating fatalities to unsafe driving behavior, such as impaired driving, speeding, distracted driving and a failure to wear seat belts. This carelessness has surged since the beginning of the pandemic.
Experts say as roads became less crowded in 2020, driving behavior became riskier – particularly speeding drivers operating in sparser traffic. Some careless motorists became more brazen as they believed police would not issue tickets due to the pandemic.
Data shows serious crashes involving drugs or alcohol rose significantly. The NHTSA says deaths resulting from occupants not wearing seat belts rose by 15%, speeding-related fatalities increased by 10%, and drunk driving deaths were up by 9%.
These statistics and the continued carelessness by motorists are even more disturbing after data released back in June showed traffic density across Texas and the rest of the U.S. had returned to pre-pandemic levels.