With COVID-19 ravaging the country through much of 2020, Americans were supposed to be on lockdown and driving only for necessities. So why did traffic fatalities increase 4.6 percent in the first nine months of the year when traffic was down? The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says people took more risks on less congested roads.
Car Accident Deaths Reached Record Highs
Preliminary NHTSA data shows that road deaths hit a 13-year high in the first nine months of 2020, even though the volume of vehicles on the road dropped 13 percent. This time period occurred when the nation was on lockdown, AP News reports.
Increases were incremental at first. In the first quarter, fatalities increased 0.6 percent and then decreased by 1.1 percent in the second quarter. Then, in the third quarter, fatalities spiked at 13.1 percent, a period when motorists were being allowed to gradually return to driving.
Jonathan Adkins, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association, says speeding is the likely explanation for the rise in traffic deaths.
The National Safety Council (NSC) found further disturbing trends. More than 24,000 people were killed in car wrecks in 2020, an 8 percent increase from the prior year. Also of note was a 24 percent spike in the fatality rate, or the number of traffic deaths per 100 million miles driven.
What Is Reckless Driving?
In Michigan, reckless driving is defined as driving a vehicle “in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.” The state defines “willful” as doing it with purpose or intent. “Wanton disregard” is the state’s terminology for being aware that conduct was risky but choosing to disregard the potential consequences.
Speed was the common denominator in most of the fatalities in 2020. Making matters worse, a disturbing number of drivers were found to be using alcohol, marijuana, and opioids while exceeding the posted speed limit.
Driving Safety Tips
NHTSA shares these reminders to keep the nation’s highways safe for all:
- Always wear your seat belts and require passengers to as well.
- Observe the posted speed limit.
- Don’t talk on the phone or text while driving.
- Don’t drive while under the influence of alcohol or other substances that can impair your judgment.
- Make sure your vehicle is in safe shape by checking your tires, lights, and mirrors regularly.
- Place children in secure car seats that are appropriate for their size.