In the midst of the pandemic, more motorists from coast to coast put the pedal to the metal more often, leading to 2020 as the deadliest year on U.S. highways in over a decade.
Even though trucks and cars drove fewer miles, traffic data shows a higher death toll resulted as average speeds surged, a higher percentage of drivers were drunk or on drugs, and fewer people wore seatbelts. That deadly combination hasn’t gone away as we enter the final stretch of the summer travel season.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says, compared to 2019, traffic fatalities grew by over 7% to 38,680 while the number of miles traveled fell by over 13%. That makes 2020 the deadliest since 2007.
The NHTSA had expected fatalities to decline during the pandemic due to fewer cars on the road during lockdowns and stay-at-home orders. However, traffic deaths actually increased throughout and surged at the end of 2020.
The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles says 847 people died on state roadways in 2020 compared to 827 in 2019 for a 2% increase. In addition, 144 people were injured in crashes every day in the Commonwealth. In Maryland, the news was even more discouraging:
The Maryland Department of Transportation says traffic levels dropped by 50% in April 2020 and remained about 11% below average throughout the pandemic.
Transportation experts say drivers’ increasingly dangerous behavior is due to a combination of factors, including a lack of enforcement and drivers putting too much faith in safety systems, such as air bags, automatic braking and other features. Another primary factor is drivers who simply “go with the flow,” trying to keep up with speeding motorists.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says there’s no magic solution to the problem. The group says it won’t end until law enforcement agencies enforce speed limits and discourage speeders with a more visible presence. Some police departments are stepping up and launching public awareness campaigns to prevent this dangerous behavior.
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