US Traffic Deaths Rose in 2020, Despite Fewer Cars on the Road

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Because the pandemic lockdowns resulted in many more people spending time at home than they normally would, you might naturally assume this resulted in fewer cars on America’s road in 2020. Data indicates you would be correct in your assumption.

However, you might also assume that lower levels of traffic throughout the country would result in fewer traffic fatalities. Surprisingly, it appears this assumption would be incorrect.

A recent report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indicates that the rate of traffic fatalities in the US actually rose in 2020. Specifically, NHTSA officials estimate approximately 38,680 people lost their lives in traffic accidents across the country. That would make 2020 the year with the most traffic fatalities since 2007.

It’s not entirely clear why traffic fatality rates rose so sharply despite traffic in general declining. That said, the NHTSA report does cover the main factors that contributed to motor vehicle accidents resulting in death in 2020. They include speeding, impaired driving, and failure to wear a seatbelt.

It’s worth noting that pedestrian deaths remained essentially flat when compared to 2019. However, motorist deaths, passenger deaths, cyclist deaths, and motorcyclist deaths all rose.

Again, while there’s no definitive consensus yet regarding why traffic fatalities were more common in 2020, NHTSA researchers do have some theories. For example, some have suggested that people’s driving habits may have changed during the pandemic for various reasons. 

Thus, while there were technically fewer drivers on the road, many drivers may have been more inclined to engage in risky behaviors. This may have been a result of the stress many were struggling to cope with during the pandemic, or simply the fact that drivers may have felt safer speeding and engaging in other such behaviors due to lower traffic levels.

Additionally, early research suggests that the stress associated with the pandemic resulted in many more people frequently turning to alcohol as a coping mechanism. This could have caused more impaired driving accidents than is typical.

Once more, the NHTSA’s findings were only recently released. More research will have to be conducted to ensure we have a thorough sense of why traffic fatalities increased in 2020. Understanding how these trends develop can help the NHTSA and law enforcement agencies more effectively identify ways to reduce the rate of traffic accident deaths.

In general, though, such trends highlight the importance of obeying the law and exercising caution when driving. Motorists must take all necessary steps to protect themselves and others. 

They should also familiarize themselves with their options if they ever are involved in accidents. After all, even a safe, responsible driver may nevertheless find themselves involved in an accident resulting from the negligence of others. 

In this scenario, they should take such basic steps as reporting the accident to the police, seeking medical attention right away even if they don’t think they’re injured, and potentially consulting with a car accident lawyer to determine if they should file an insurance claim or lawsuit in an effort to recover compensation. 

While a driver will hopefully never have to apply this knowledge, it’s useful to have.