Fewer cars on the road should equal fewer accidents. However, the pandemic changed a great many assumptions about the way people conduct themselves during challenging times. In reality, last year, where traffic jams were scarce and drivers could enjoy the open road with minimal delays, saw the highest number of motor vehicle fatalities in 13 years.
Preliminary data from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) revealed the decrease in vehicle miles traveled (VMT) was at 430.2, a reduction of 13.2 percent. The National Highway Safety Traffic Association (NHTSA) reported that nearly 40,000 people died in motor vehicle collisions, an increase of 7.2 percent from the previous, non-pandemic year.
Road fatalities increase
The overall fatality rate last year was 1.37 deaths per 100 million VMT. The previous year saw a VMT of 1.11. Passengers accounted for the most significant number of fatalities, increasing five percent from 2019. Motorcycles ranked first in crash deaths, with an increase of nine percent.
Those choosing to travel via bicycle were not spared as death rates jumped five percent in 2020.
For many drivers, wide-open roads represented an opportunity to drive excessively and recklessly fast, forego seat belts, and operate motor vehicles while under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
Specific statistics paint a somewhat horrifying picture:
- A 20 percent increase in occupant ejection
- Unrestrained occupants of passenger vehicles grew by 15 percent.
- Crashes on urban interstates went up 15 percent
- Crashes caused by excessive speeds increased by 11 percent
- Nighttime driving was particularly hazardous, with an increase of 11 percent
- Weekend crashes rose nine percent
Whether the end of the pandemic will result in a decrease in traffic deaths is unknown. Some experts believe that bad driving habits may have become routine for motor vehicle operators, putting more people at risk of losing their lives.