2020 US Traffic Death Figures Show Worrying Trend Connected to COVID-19

Each year, the NHTSA releases reports and data regarding motor vehicle accidents and fatalities, and the reports from recent years have brought good news, showing that the number of fatalities was decreasing from 2017 through 2018 and into 2019 too. 

At a time when there are more licensed drivers than ever before and more cars on America’s roads than the country has ever seen, along with an estimated six million auto accidents every year, this news gives us plenty of cause to be cautiously optimistic about general road safety.

Unfortunately, the preliminary data for 2020, a year that saw unprecedented events across the US and the rest of the world, doesn’t make for such positive reading. While the total number of fatalities has decreased once again, the actual rate of deaths was significantly higher in 2020 than in 2019.

A Grim Reality 

The numbers from 2020 have come as a surprise to many. After all, 2020 was the year of the coronavirus outbreak, which caused a lot of businesses to shut down and forced many people to stay at home and off the roads, under quarantine and lockdown orders

Naturally, one might assume that with fewer vehicles on the roads and more people staying home in general, the rate of fatal traffic accidents would decrease. However, the NHTSA data paints a very different picture. 

In reality, the number of people to have died in the first half of 2020 was 16,650, which is 2% lower than the 16,988 figure recorded in the same period in 2019. However, due to lockdowns, quarantines, and ‘stay at home’ orders from COVID-19, there were far fewer people on the roads, with a VMT (vehicle miles traveled) figure some 16.6% lower in 2020 than 2019. 

When we factor in this change, the rate of fatalities per 100 million VMT in 2020 was 1.25, worryingly higher than 2019’s recording of 1.06. Essentially, what this means is that while the total number of deaths for 2020 was lower, the rate of deaths per mile traveled was higher, so people had a higher chance of dying in a traffic accident in 2020 than they did in 2019.

The COVID Effect 

When we examine the data more closely, we can learn even more about this shift. For example, the data from Q2 of 2020 shows the period when most of the ‘stay at home’ orders came into action and the number of vehicles on the roads really started to drop as people reacted to the spread of the virus

As many Americans will remember, roads in Q2 of 2020 were much more deserted than they had been at the start of the year, and the data from this period is even more distressing. Again, the total number of fatalities dropped compared to 2019, but the rate of deaths per vehicle miles traveled went up to 1.42.

Worryingly, this huge increase coincides with a period in which law enforcement officers began sharing reports of more drivers speeding, behaving recklessly, and breaking the rules of the road in general. It seems, therefore, that the stay at home orders may have, in fact, made roads more dangerous as those who were driving felt more at liberty to break the rules.

A Worrying Trend

Typically, auto accidents can be caused by a wide range of problems, from foggy weather conditions that reduce visibility to reckless drivers operating under the influence of alcohol to people getting distracted by their phones or giving in to the dangers of road rage and making poor decisions that endanger themselves and others.

During this period of 2020, however, it seems that many of the most dangerous accidents were actually being caused by drivers who were simply failing to abide by the usual rules and standards. As the roads were much emptier and the world was going through such an unprecedented crisis, it seems that many individuals felt that they had more license to make poor decisions.

Reports suggest that as well as breaking limits, many drivers were seen to be ignoring stop signs, failing to use signals and mirrors when making turns, and even not wearing their seat belts in their own vehicles. Worryingly, at a time of global tragedy and suffering, many people seemed to behave with reckless abandon.

Safe Driving Is Always Important

The data of the NHTSA and the findings and conclusions that can be drawn from that data remind us all of the importance of safe and sensible driving in every situation. It doesn’t matter whether the roads are filled with other vehicles or you’re driving down a totally deserted road, without a single other vehicle in sight, the rules have to be followed for your own protection.

The figures from 2017-2019 show that great progress is being made. Modern car safety features and better standards of safe driving across the nation have helped to make America’s roads safer places to be for everyone, and even though millions of accidents still occur each year, the likelihood of being involved in a truly fatal accident has been going down.

2020 has interfered with this trend somewhat, but it’s clear to see that if efforts continue to be made by the vast majority of today’s drivers as the world hopefully begins to get back to normal, we can continue to push the numbers of traffic deaths even lower, year on year, helping to protect and preserve the lives of ourselves and those around us.

The findings of 2020 can be a lesson for every driver and a key reminder to always drive safely and smartly. Never forget to fasten your seat belt and ensure that your passengers are buckled up. Don’t give in to the dangers of distractions and road rage. Make sure you pay attention to signs and follow the rules of the road. And always ensure that your focus levels and concentration remain high on every journey, no matter where you happen to be going.

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