Less congested roads during the pandemic should have made driving safer, but instead seemingly had the opposite effect, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal. The rate of car crash deaths went up in 2020 even as the miles driven went down. Unimpeded roads inspired drivers to speed, which in turn increased the potential for fatal crashes.
Nationally, vehicle miles traveled dropped by 264.2 billion miles (17%) for the first half of 2020 as compared to 2019. During that same time period, fatalities also dropped by 2%. However, the ratio of fatalities per miles traveled rose by 18%. “It was the highest motor vehicle fatality rate for that span of time in a dozen years,” according to the article.
INRIX, a company that studies traffic patterns, released a report on statistics from the top 25 U.S. metro areas during the pandemic. The report cited a 31% increase in fatal crashes during the second quarter of 2020. Speed was a significant factor in the car crash deaths.
Statistics from state citations corroborate the propensity to speed. California issued 2,493 citations for driving faster than 100 mph in the first month of lockdown. Nebraska gave 902 citations for driving at least 100 mph through October. These were both up significantly from the previous years. In Minnesota, troopers issued double the number of speeding citations than the previous year. The top speed cited in that state was 153 mph.
In addition, a report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that factors other than speed were at play. During the second quarter of 2020, drivers were driving while impaired and not wearing seatbelts. The ejection rate was double, and trauma centers found a higher prevalence of alcohol, marijuana and opioids when compared with previous years.