During 2020, the number of fatal traffic accidents rose significantly despite COVID-19 stay-at-home orders and fewer drivers on the road.
Spike in Car Crashes and Fatalities
According to the National Safety Council (NSC), traffic fatalities rose by 8% in 2020 even though many drivers were driving fewer miles each day. In 2020, there were more than 42,000 reported fatal car crashes, the highest spike in traffic deaths in nearly a century.
During the peak of the Coronavirus crisis around the country, reports of traffic fatalities were at an all-time high, despite many Americans working from home. In addition to a rise in traffic deaths, approximately 4.8 million severe traffic accidents sent thousands of drivers to hospital emergency rooms for treatments and hospitalization. In 2020, auto accident attorneys around the country witnessed an 8% jump in traffic accidents over accidents in 2019. States with the highest fatality rates included Arkansas, Connecticut, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Vermont.
With fewer drivers on the road in 2020, what was the reason for the spike in traffic fatalities during the pandemic? Safety officials with the NSC blame the rise in accidents and injuries on risky driving behaviors such as:
- Running red lights
- Ignoring stop signs
- Distracted driving
- Impaired driving
- Not using seat belts
For some people, fewer drivers on roads and highways present an opportunity to talk on their cell phones, drive at faster speeds, and ignore traffic signals and safety regulations. Less traffic on city streets and highways may encourage risky driving behaviors, especially for younger less experienced drivers. In 2020, the increased risk of exposure to COVID-19 prompted many people to avoid public transportation like buses and trains and drive their personal vehicles for daily activities. Pedestrian injuries and fatalities also increased in 2020.
According to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA), driving behaviors and patterns changed significantly in 2020. Traffic data shows average speeds increased during the second quarter, and high speeds above 55 mph were commonly recorded on city streets and highways.
NHTSA crash reports in 2020 noted a rise in drivers impaired on alcohol or drugs, as well as an increase in crash victims not wearing their seat belts. Crash victims not buckled up were ejected from their vehicles causing a rise in permanent injuries, disabilities, and fatalities. The percentage of drivers not wearing seat belts increased from 14% prior to the pandemic to 19% during 2020.