During the pandemic, Americans drove less often and also had more crashes.
New data from AAA shows the average number of trips by personal vehicles, mass transit and ridesharing dropped by 40% in April 2020, the month after many stay-at-home orders and lockdowns started in the U.S.
The amount of work-related travel also dropped by about 40% in April 2020, and although it rebounded a little bit, at the end of 2020 it still remained about a quarter below pre-pandemic levels of commuting.
While that number may not surprise many, the NHTSA found that there was an increase in traffic crash fatalities in 2020.
“It’s counterintuitive to see the rate of traffic deaths spike when so many of us were driving less often,” said Jake Nelson, AAA’s director of traffic safety advocacy in a written release. “As the U.S. climbs out of the COVID-19 pandemic, highway safety officials will need to double down on curbing speeding, substance-impaired driving, and failure to buckle up.”
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates 38,680 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes last year. That’s the highest projected number of motor vehicle deaths since 2007.
The NHTSA assessment found a “significant increase in fatalities during the third and fourth quarter” of 2020, and they are investigating factors that may have caused this.
Preliminary data shows the largest year-over-year increases in the number of deaths of motorcyclists, up 9% over 2019, and vehicle passengers, up 5% over 2019. They also found there was a 20% increase in “occupant ejection” resulting in death and a 15% increase in deaths among “unrestrained occupants.”