Traffic Deaths Soared During COVID-19 Pandemic in 2020
The year 2020 was more deadly than usual and not just for the obvious reason. While COVID-19 took the lives of over 300,000 people, the number of traffic deaths soared in 2020 as well.
According to the New York Times, at least 356,000 more people died in 2020 than in a previous year. While most of this this spike in fatalities was directly linked to COVID-19, not all of it was. More people died from conditions such as stress and diabetes, as well as car crashes.
Statistics from the National Safety Council pointed to a 20% jump in motor vehicle deaths in the first half of 2020. Roads became more deadly at a time when traffic volumes fell by 17% due to stay-at-home orders and lockdowns associated with the Coronavirus.
More than 16,650 people died in motor vehicle wrecks in the first half of 2020, driving up the fatality rate to 1.25 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled.
National Safety Council President and CEO Lorraine Martin said the death toll should have fallen as the pandemic cleared highways. She said: “Instead, our soaring rate of deaths speaks to our need to improve safety on our roads. Clearly, we must work harder as a society to reverse this trend, especially since the pandemic is not nearly over.”
The spike in highway deaths in 2020 was the highest seen since 1999. The number of deaths rose 17% in June. The death rate per 100 million miles driven increased a massive 34.4%.
The reason for the spike is unclear but there is evidence more drivers broke the speed limit as the pandemic cleared the highways. Some police departments relaxed enforcement of speeding, drunk driving, and other violations early in the pandemic. In Virginia, police reported fewer people wearing seat belts in 2020.
The pandemic and the economic downturn associated with COVID-19 appears to have fueled an increase in drug and alcohol use. In a study of fatally or seriously injured individuals on the road at five trauma centers in the United States between mid-March and mid-July, almost two-thirds of drivers tested positive for at least one active drug such as opiates, alcohol, and marijuana.
Forbes noted that the increase in risky behavior on the roads during the pandemic is not confined to the United States. The Huffington Post reported that in France, excessive speeding increased by 12% when the lockdown began as well as an alarming rise in deaths on the country’s highways. The French government noted a particular spike in accidents involving cyclists. Many of them were new on the roads due to the pandemic. They lacked helmets and failed to adhere to basic rules like signaling when changing lanes.
Forbes noted economic downturns usually cause a decrease in traffic accidents and deaths. People move less and there are fewer wrecks. However, the impact of COVID-19 is less certain, and some commentators believe it may have resulted in increased stress and anger on the roads as well as elevated drug and alcohol use. The NSC offers the following advice to drivers during the pandemic:
- Remain below speed limits, even if roads are empty and traffic is light.
- Drive defensively. Buckle up and avoid driving after consuming any alcohol.
- Look out for reckless and poor drivers on the road ahead and anticipate accidents.
- Stay engaged with teen drivers’ habits. Work on their skills and do not let them out on the roads late or in big groups.
- Be aware of more bicycles and people on foot. The pandemic fueled an increase in bike use, running, and walking, especially in urban areas.
States like Virginia have experienced an increase in pedestrian deaths and injuries in recent years. Exercise care if you are walking or on a bike and follow all the rules.
We are concerned to read traffic deaths soared in 2020. We urge you to be careful on the roads. Our Virginia Beach car accident attorneys represent people who suffer injuries and those who lose loved ones in traffic accidents across Hampton Roads and the rest of Virginia. Please contact us for a free consultation after a car wreck.