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Traffic deaths in the U.S. reportedly soared after coronavirus lockdowns ended in 2020, marking the highest yearly total since 2007 as people engaged in unsafe behavior out on roads, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
In 2020, 38,680 people died on U.S. roads. This is up 7.2% or nearly 2,600 more than in 2019, despite people driving 13% fewer miles, as preliminary data showed. The fatality rate hit 1.37 deaths per 100 million miles — the highest figure since 2006. And to make matters worse, the number of traffic deaths was up more than 13% in the second half of 2020.
According to the NHTSA, the main behaviors that drove this increase included impaired driving, speeding, and failure to wear seat belts. Deaths involving motorists not wearing seat belts were up 15%, speeding related deaths jumped by 10%, and fatal crashes involving alcohol rose 9%.
During the pandemic year, distracted driving and speeding increased throughout the country. In Los Angeles, the number of drunk driving incidents plummeted, which was directly attributed to the closure of restaurants and bars in 2020. Moreover, people arrested for driving under the influence of drugs, rather than alcohol, have held steady or increased during the pandemic. However, data reportedly suggests a higher number of serious crashes last year involved drug or alcohol use than previously nationwide.
In an open letter to drivers in Jan., NHTSA said “fewer Americans drove but those who did took more risks and had more fatal crashes. … It’s irresponsible and illegal to drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol, which not only puts your life at risk but the lives of others.”
In Los Angeles, though car collisions were down in 2020, traffic deaths went up. Similar to the national trends, this was largely due to motorists engaging in more reckless behavior behind the wheel. According to Crosstown, there were 35,654 vehicle collisions in the period that ran through Mar. 14, 2021.Moreover, there were 257 fatalities from Mar. 15, 2020 to Mar. 14, 2021.
And now, as traffic has gone back to normal after over a year of coronavirus pandemic lockdowns, and with it, all of its maladies — like road rage. According to LAPD data quoted by Crosstown, there were 172 incidents of road rage in Los Angeles from Jan. 1 to Apr. 15. This represents a nearly 7% increase from the 161 in the same time last year. ABC7 did a deep dive into 2018 California Highway Patrol stats and found that nearly two-thirds of fatal crashes in Southern California were caused by factors associated with road rage. Quoted in the same article, California is the fourth worst state to drive in, coming in 42nd for traffic congestion and 48th for road quality.