Despite predictions that car accidents, injuries, and deaths would decrease during the pandemic, a new report by the National Safety Council shows they have surged.
According to the report, which looked at statistics from 2020, it’s estimated that 42,060 people died on American highways last year, which is 8% higher than in 2019.
As the US had regional lockdowns and travel restrictions last year, traffic was 13% lower, which was expected. However, the rate of traffic deaths rose by a staggering 24% compared with the previous 12 months. As the NSC points out, this is the biggest increase in 96 years.
Among the most dangerous states were Arkansas, Washington DC, South Dakota, and Vermont, which all had an increase in highway deaths of over 25% in 2020.
Some states did see a fall in the number of deaths, however. These include Hawaii, with a 20% decrease, along with Wyoming, Delaware, Nebraska, and Idaho, with between 7 and 11% fewer deaths last year compared with 2019.
What’s behind the higher fatality rate?
At the start of the pandemic, experts predicted that road accidents would fall dramatically. In fact, many insurance companies announced that they would provide rebates to their customers to offset the drop in claims that they were expecting.
Although they were correct in believing that there would be fewer vehicles on the road, they failed to account for changes in drivers’ behavior.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the increase in deaths is due to drivers taking more risks on quieter highways.
It’s estimated that, in 2020, 4.8 million American citizens were seriously injured in crashes next year. Even though fewer people were driving, those who did drive were more likely to drive in a reckless way, such as breaking the speed limit or pay less attention to the road.
Lorraine M. Martin, president of the National Safety Council, noted, “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.”