Deadly highways: Fewer crashes, but more fatalities
The pandemic-prompted shift to at-home work dramatically reduced the number of cars on the road, so people drove faster, drank more, paid less attention and got lazy about their seatbelts, all of which contributed to the highest rate of fatal accidents in more than a decade.
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration this month reported that 38,824 people died from vehicle collisions in 2020. That’s the highest number of fatalities since 2007. And initial numbers for the first nine months of 2021 suggest the speed-and-crash trend has continued.
NHTSA Deputy Administrator Steven Cliff, a veteran of the Jerry Brown Administration, said the numbers are proof of a “deadly crisis” nationwide.
In California, the number of drivers caught going more than 100 miles per hour nearly doubled in the first nine months of the pandemic.
“While overall traffic crashes and people injured were down in 2020, fatal crashes and fatalities increased,” said Cliff. “We cannot allow this to become the status quo.”
According to federal record-keepers, there were 22 percent fewer police-reported crashes in 2020 than the year before. Injuries, too, declined over that period, dropping 17 percent from 2019.
But fewer accidents did not mean fewer deaths. Instead, that number rose almost 7 percent year over year.
Nearly half the time (45 percent), drivers involved in accidents were engaged in at least one of the following risky behaviors: speeding, alcohol impairment, or not wearing a seat belt.
In the first nine months of lockdowns (March 2020 to January 2021), the number of super speeders jumped to an astonishing 27,990.
Speeders really had a field day when traffic was down. In California, the number of drivers caught going more than 100 miles per hour nearly doubled in the first nine months of the pandemic.
In the nine months leading up to pandemic shutdowns, patrol officers ticketed 14,121 motorists driving over the century mark. Then, in the first nine months of lockdowns (March 2020 to January 2021), the number of super speeders jumped to an astonishing 27,990.
CHP spokesperson Fran Clader called it a “dangerous trend.”
“Meanwhile,” she said, “in 2021, the CHP issued more than 55,800 citations for distracted driving.”
Along with those 55,800 incidents of inattention, the state blames distracted driving for more than 13,000 crashes, 56 of which were fatal.
“Driving is a complex task, requiring a motorist’s full attention,” said Clader. “Anything that diverts the driver’s eyes or attention from the roadway, even for 1-2 seconds, could result in tragedy.”
And far too often, it did.
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