Due to stay-at-home orders, a transition to remote work, and far less social interaction, Americans drove less and covered fewer miles on our roadways in 2020 than in years past according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. However, preliminary statistics indicate that the number of people killed on the nation’s highways rose 4.6% in the first nine months of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. Specifically, the traffic deaths rose 0.6% during the first quarter of 2020, fell 1.1% in the second quarter of the year during the height of virus restrictions, and then jumped 13.1% from July through September.
There are a couple of things to consider for the increase in traffic deaths during a year in which most people would expect a decline. With fewer people on the roadways, it became much easier and tempting for drivers to speed. In addition, it has been reported that traffic stops have declined significantly during the pandemic, so there is a belief that drivers feel it is easier to get away with speeding and other forms of reckless driving because officers are reluctant to risk encountering the virus during traffic stops. Also worth considering is the fact that vehicles became a way to get out of the house. Amid lockdowns and limited social activities, going for a long drive on generally empty roadways became a form of escape for some people, especially younger drivers who are statistically more likely to engage in riskier driving behavior and be involved in fatal crashes.
Like most situations, there is another side to this analysis that needs to be considered. Traffic deaths in the year 2019 were the lowest since 2014 and 2019 was the third year in a row with fewer traffic fatalities than the one before. Thus, our country was on a good trend up until 2020 regarding fewer traffic deaths. The fact that this positive trend was broken in 2020 may just be an unfortunate occurrence as opposed to something triggered by the pandemic.
Whichever side that you come out on in this analysis, the bottom line is to be careful on the roadway. As a law firm that has many years of experience representing individuals and families who have had their lives turned upside down by a car, truck, or motorcycle accident, we know first-hand that taking extra precautions and being vigilant on the road can help prevent tragedy.