With so many people spending more time at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, one would assume that fatal car accidents would’ve been significantly reduced. Unfortunately, this hasn’t been the case. Researchers have found that despite fewer people driving during the pandemic, the number of fatalities from car accidents has risen across the country.
Car Accident Deaths Increased in the U.S. During the Pandemic
Researchers at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that 38,680 people died in car accidents in 2020, which was a 7 percent increase from 2019 and the highest number of reported deaths since 2007.
What’s even more startling is that the number of U.S. traffic accident deaths increased despite fewer people driving in 2020, largely due to the pandemic. The number of vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in 2020 dropped by about 13 percent. However, the rate of deaths per 100 million miles traveled rose from 1.11 deaths per 100 million VMT in 2019 to 1.37 deaths per 100 million VMT in 2020.
Unfortunately, future car accident death statistics aren’t looking much better for 2021. Early NHTSA estimates for the first six months of 2021 show that the number of car accident deaths rose by 18 percent compared to the first six months of 2020. This is a jaw-dropping increase, especially considering 2020 figures were already elevated from 2019 statistics.
These national trends reflect similar patterns here in Florida. According to recent information from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, the number of fatalities from car accidents in Florida rose from 3,185 deaths in 2019 to 3,332 deaths in 2020. This increase came despite the number of drivers involved in accidents dropping from 689,474 in 2019 to 569,182 in 2020.
Why Have Car Crash Deaths Surged During the COVID-19 Pandemic?
While researchers have not pinned down definitive causes for why fatal car accidents have increased so dramatically during the pandemic, they say an increase in unsafe driving behavior could be partly to blame. In particular, researchers say they’ve seen a significant surge in drivers not wearing their seatbelts and driving while impaired.
“I fear we’ve adopted some really unsafe driving habits, and they’re going to persist,” said Ken Kolosh, a researcher at the National Safety Council. “Our roads are less safe than they were pre-pandemic.”
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