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According to preliminary data from the National Safety Council, the death rate from car crashes spiked 24% in 2020 compared to the previous year in the U.S. This is a historic rise that has been linked to an equally historic reduction in traffic congestion in the country’s roads because of the coronavirus pandemic, which ultimately gave way to the remaining drivers to race around recklessly.
The National Safety Council is a nonprofit that releases its estimates of annual roadway fatalities about two years earlier than the federal government. In their most recent report, it revealed that about 42,060 people lost their lives to the U.S. traffic violence pandemic in 2020. As Streetsblog USA noted, this represents about an 8.4% surge from the 38,800 deaths in the 2019 report. But because total annual mileage dropped about 13% during the nationwide quarantine, the one-year increase in the car crash fatality rate was the highest since 1924 — “back when things like four-wheel brakes were still considered luxury safety features,” wrote Streetsblog USA.
Moreover, an estimated 4.8 million additional roadway users were seriously injured in crashes in 2020, with the estimated cost to society being $474 billion.
Lorraine M. Martin, president and CEO of the National Safety Council, said via the press release: “It is tragic that in the U.S., we took cars off the roads and didn’t reap any safety benefits. These data expose our lack of an effective roadway safety culture. It is past time to address roadway safety holistically and effectively.”
In the early days of the pandemic in Los Angeles, speeding doubled in the city. According to the LA Times, the CHP saw an 87% increase in citations for speeding in excess of 100 mph. Just one month after the start of the stay-at-home-order, the CHP issued 2,493 tickets throughout California for speeding over 100 mph — almost doubling the amount of the same offense seen during the same period in 2019.
As a result of the country-wide shutdown, many cities provided people-friendly street amenities like pop-up bike lanes, car-light Slow Streets events, and other quick-build traffic-calming interventions that are proven to save lives. However, in many cases, these efforts were short-lived.
However, the combination of dangerous road design and low traffic volumes wasn’t the only reason why car crash rates were out of control in 2020. The report also cited the need for stricter licensing requirements for teenage drivers, legal and technological solutions to curb cell phone use behind the wheel, and strong federal laws to require a range of better vehicle safety features on new cars.
As told to Streetsblog USA, Cathy Chase, president of the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety reportedly commented on the issue: “It is tragic that we have proven ‘vaccines’ that could be significantly bringing down these numbers, but they are not being implemented.” She cited features that have been demonstrated to considerably reduce or mitigate crashes like advanced driver assistance systems, such as automatic emergency braking. “Yet, a number of auto manufacturers are not putting them in new cars as standard equipment. Instead, they are upcharging for them in luxury packages coupled with non-safety features.”
As the NSC wrote, the report “underscores the nation’s persistent failure to prioritize safety on the roads, which became emptier but far more deadly.” Because of the data, the NSC is urging President Joe Biden and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to commit to zero roadway deaths by 2050.