Despite significant drops in traffic levels (pandemic-related shelter-in-place orders left tens of thousands of non-essential employees working from home for months on end) as compared to 2019, deadly traffic accidents rose a whopping 7% last year, hitting a 13-year high of nearly 39,000 deaths. This is according to preliminary data provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), a federal agency that tracks all manner of traffic-related statistics.
There was a massive decrease in overall vehicle traffic miles traveled in 2020, but this shortage did nothing to prevent fatal car accidents. The NHTSA hasn’t released causal data yet, so there are no definitive answers as to why these accidents increased so dramatically year-over-year. There are some educated guesses, though. These include:
- Drivers felt the need for speed – Seeing a wide-open road ahead proved too tempting for many drivers. Instead of being “caged in” by regular traffic levels and having their speed naturally moderated, some drivers put their foot down when roads were open. As we know, faster speeds yield more catastrophic accidents. Lower-speed crashes commonly result in lower-level injuries, with things like broken bones, soft-tissue damage, or concussions being most common. Higher-speed accidents, however, cause fatal injuries.
- Drivers took chances with their safety in 2020 – Drivers seemingly had a “devil may care” attitude towards the safety of themselves and their passengers last year. Many vehicle occupants in fatal crashes were found to be not wearing seatbelts at the time of the accident. Simply put, seatbelts save lives. Failing to buckle up can and will inevitably prove to be a fatal mistake. According to NHTSA data, the rate of “unrestrained occupants” of crashes went up 15%.
- Bad driving behaviors won out over safety concerns – There were higher-than-expected levels of distracted driving and drunk driving reported in 2020. Of all the bad driving actions that drivers can take, these two are probably the worst, and both have been shown time and again to be the cause of accidents.
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