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Traffic deaths surged despite fewer cars on the road in 2020

Apr 22, 2021 | Motor Vehicle Crashes

The past year will long be remembered for the anxiety and economic hardship suffered by Texans and millions of other Americans affected by the pandemic.

But one unexpected result was a sharp rise in U.S. traffic fatalities, as experts predicted highway deaths would decrease due to fewer vehicles on the road with shutdowns and stay-at-home orders in effect.

The U.S. death rate saw the largest jump in recorded history

Instead of a slight silver lining expected during the pandemic, the National Safety Council (NSC) said the opposite happened. The advocacy group offered these 2020 statistics:

  • 42,060 people died in highway crashes
  • Deaths increased by 8% compared to 2019
  • Total vehicle miles traveled decreased by 13% from 2019
  • The resulting death rate spiked by 24% when considering those factors

That 24% increase represented the largest single-year jump since the NSC started measuring traffic fatalities in 1924, or roughly a decade after the horse and buggy era ended.

Speed and other risky behaviors are to blame

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says the nation’s empty roads appear to have encouraged motorists to drive faster. Analytics show average speeds increased by 35% to 40% in urban areas last year.

The NHTSA says police records document a sharp increase in speeding and reckless driving violations nationwide. During the same time, crash victim test results show an increase in those under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Also, fewer drivers and passengers were wearing their seat belts.

Hold negligent drivers accountable

One study in California shows that even though the total number of accidents during a seven-week period in the early stages of last year’s stay-at-home order declined by 29%, severe and fatal accidents increased by nearly 15%, likely due to speeding and Americans driving larger, heavier vehicles.

More recent studies suggest that carelessness by many motorists is continuing in 2021. When someone is injured by the negligence of others, it is advisable to contact an experienced personal injury attorney to collect maximum compensation for any injuries and damage to their vehicle or other property.