COVID-19 put a highlight on private well being and security like maybe solely a pandemic can, however there was one place a minimum of the place individuals did not get the memo: American roads.
Regardless of People driving lots of of billions of miles much less in 2020 than they did in 2019, lethal visitors accidents truly surged within the yr of lockdown, with crash fatalities throughout the pandemic hitting ranges not seen in over a decade.
In keeping with the US Division of Transportation’s Nationwide Freeway Visitors Security Administration (NHTSA), visitors fatality projections for 2020 recommend an estimated 38,680 individuals died in motorized vehicle visitors crashes final yr, representing a rise of about 7.2 p.c on 2019’s fatalities.
That staggering rise – taking visitors fatalities to ranges not seen since 2007 – got here throughout a yr during which People truly drove their vehicles a lot lower than regular: an estimated 430.2 billion miles much less traveled general, representing a 13.2 p.c lower from the yr earlier than.
The brand new figures present that touring on the nation’s roads final yr was a considerably riskier proposition general in comparison with current years, with the fatality price per 100 million car miles traveled (VMT) surging to 1.37 in 2020, up from 1.11 in 2019, and ending a string of yearly reductions in fatality charges that started in 2016, suggesting safer driving situations.
That good run now seems to be interrupted. Regardless that an in-depth psychological rationalization for what’s taking place is past the scope of the NHTSA’s statistics, the physique did change into conscious of a harmful shift in driver habits a number of months in the past.
“In the course of the early months of the nationwide public well being emergency, driving patterns and behaviors modified considerably,” the NHTSA defined in an replace on COVID-19 visitors security situations in January.
“Of the drivers who remained on the roads, some engaged in riskier habits, together with dashing, failing to put on seat belts, and driving inebriated or different medication.”
The latest figures, launched final week, give probably the most complete look but at visitors fatalities within the US in 2020, exhibiting that the deadliest months got here within the second half of the yr, after states started reopening following earlier shutdowns and keep at residence orders within the first half of 2020 (which coincided with much less visitors fatalities within the months of March, April, and Might, in comparison with 2019).
Whereas it is tough to authoritatively pin down what made individuals drive in additional harmful methods, the NHTSA acknowledges a “outstanding development” of a number of worsening components contributed to the surge in lethal crashes final yr.
These included vital will increase in fatalities on rural, city, and interstate roads, fatalities at night-time and on weekends, crashes involving older automobiles, rollover crashes, speeding-related crashes, and lots of extra.
The best will increase over 2019 figures had been fatalities involving non-Hispanic Black individuals (up 23 p.c), occupant ejection (up 20 p.c), and unrestrained occupants of passenger automobiles (up 15 p.c, and tied with fatalities on city interstate roads).
Not each side of US driving in 2020 was deadlier. Fatalities involving older individuals (aged 65 and older) declined by 9 p.c, and deaths involving giant vans fell marginally (by about 2 p.c).
In keeping with the NHTSA, visitors information recommend common driver speeds elevated in Q2 and Q3 of the yr, and excessive speeds turned extra widespread, even whereas individuals in crashes appeared to be utilizing their seat belts much less. Drug use was additionally a big issue.
“NHTSA’s examine of critically or fatally injured street customers at 5 taking part trauma facilities discovered that just about two-thirds of drivers examined optimistic for a minimum of one lively drug, together with alcohol, marijuana, or opioids between mid-March and mid-July,” a brand new report explains.
“The proportion of drivers testing optimistic for opioids almost doubled after mid-March, in comparison with the earlier six months, whereas marijuana prevalence elevated by about 50 p.c.”
Finally, the NHTSA says the will increase in dangerous visitors security behaviors first seen in Q2 and Q3 continued on within the final quarter of the yr, which means that despite the fact that the frequency of trip-taking general declined, a “disturbing development” of will increase in extreme harm charges all through the latter a part of 2020 resulted.
“Addressing the wants of susceptible street customers requires that we perceive how their dangers may need modified throughout 2020,” the NHTSA says, noting that rather more extra analysis is required to assist clarify shifts in driver habits and ensuing crash outcomes.
Drive safely, everybody. Folks’s lives actually do depend on it.
The findings can be found on the NHTSA’s web site.