Last Year’s ‘Staggering Increase in Traffic Fatalities’ Reflects Increased Driving After a Pandemic-Related Drop

According to new data from NHTSA, traffic fatalities increased by close to 12 percent between the period of 2020 and the nine-months that ended in January. This is “the largest percentage increase over the first nine month since NHTSA began collecting fatality data back in 1975,” according to a press release by Mothers Against Drunk Driving. According to the headline, “New Report Reveals a Staggering Increasing Number of Traffic Fatalities in U.S. “Roadways to be opened in the first 9 months of 2021”.

MADD did not mention the COVID-19 Pandemic in its press release. This pandemic in 2020 resulted in a dramatic drop in car ownership. It was a mixture of legal and voluntary restrictions. MADD’s press release does not mention the COVID-19 pandemic, which in 2020 led to a sharp reduction in driving. This is a key difference when looking at MADD’s changes. While there was no “staggering rise”, the fatality rate (VMT) for the 100 million vehicles traveled was roughly the same as in 2020’s first nine months: 1.36 and 1.35.

MADD’s presentation of NHTSA’s statistics might seem like a predictable overbole by an advocacy group trying to find ammunition in policy discussions. The obvious reason for the rise in traffic fatalities was also not covered by the media.

Long-term trends in fatalities are a cause of concern. After declining for three years consecutively, the annual fatality rate of 100 million VMT increased by 23 percent between 1.11 and 1.37 in 2020. However, focusing only on 2020 and 2021 but ignoring rates can be misleading.

VMT fell more than 13% between February 2020 & February 2021. NHTSA however reports that vehicle miles traveled over the first nine month of 2021 increased to 244 Billion miles. This is an 11.7% increase over the time period in 2020. This is almost the same increase as in fatalities from crashes, and is the reason why there was barely any improvement in the fatality rate.

MADD has used the NHTSA figures to back its claim for faster implementation of the Congressionally mandated rulemaking, which requires all new cars to have drunk-driving prevention technology. MADD doesn’t see the value of this policy as it is not helping the situation by ignoring the fact that traffic fatality rates remained roughly the same in last year. However, the Associated Press article about NHTSA’s report highlights the increased number of total fatalities.

According to the headline, “US Road deaths increase at record speed as dangerous driving persists.” A.P. reports that the estimated number of deaths in car accidents between January and September 2021 is 12% more than in the comparable period in 2020. reporter Hope Yen writes. This is the largest percentage increase in fatal crashes since 1975, when the Transportation Department started recording them.

Yen, however, mentions MADD’s pandemic. However, she does not address its effects on the miles traveled. Instead, she says that “NHTSA blames reckless driving behaviour for the increases during this pandemic.” She cites behavioral research which shows that people who travel without seatbelts and speed more than others. A.P. 29 October 2018. An October 28 A.P. According to NHTSA data, “vehicle mileage traveled in the first 6 months of this year increased by 173.1 million miles. This is a roughly 13% increase over last year.”

NHTSA’s research shows that the NHTSA believes drivers have become less cautious in 2020. It is also consistent with the rise in annual fatalities per 100,000,000 VMT between 2019-2020. Although the 2020 rate is higher than those reported in previous decades, it was still significantly lower than that of 2007. It appears that the rate was high for the first nine months in 2021. However, NHTSA noted that the fatality rates during the second and third quarters were lower than those of 2020.

It isn’t a dramatic increase in traffic deaths between 2020-2021 that really matters. This is due to an even greater increase in fatality rates between 2019 and 2020. It was stark contrast to the extraordinary progress since the 1970s. Still, the 2020 rate was less than one third of the 1970 rate and less than half that of 1980. It was also lower than 37% than 1990, 10 percent less than 2000, and less than half that of 1980. However, it’s reasonable to fear that the 2020 rise signals that a problem will remain after the pandemic.

NHTSA’s research found that average speeds rose in the third quarter of 2020. Extreme speeds (20 miles an hour) were more common. The same time “analyses” were done.
“An estimate 11% increase in fatalities due to speeding” was the result of data collected from fatal crashes. NHTSA claims that there is no clear explanation. Previous research indicated that VMT decreases in 2020 could have allowed for increases in speed compared with 2019, but VMT’s return in 2021 coupled with faster speeds on other roadway types in the 2021 indicates this may not be the case.

Another data suggests that fewer crash victims used their seatbelts. The number of people involved in crashes with their seat belts was lower than normal for the remainder of 2019. However, ejections per 100 crashed spiked during the first quarter 2020.

NHTSA conducted an October 2020 study and found that 27 per cent of fatally or seriously injured road users were positive for alcohol. This was up from 21 percent prior to the pandemic. Nearly 13 percent of those who tested positive for opioids increased from less than 8% to more than 8 percent. A September survey found that 7.6% percent of U.S. drivers reported being more likely to drink during the epidemic. NHTSA says that an increase in the sales of marijuana and alcohol, as indirect measures of road traffic safety risk, could indicate social changes that may have implications for traffic safety.

If COVID-19 is responsible for the rise in dangerous behavior, NHTSA believes that traffic fatality rates will continue to fall. This could be because of the upward trend seen in the third and fourth quarters 2021. We should be able to see the full picture in a few years.

A.P. reports. His solution includes “billions in grants under President Joe Biden’s new infrastructure law to spur states and localities to lower speed limits and embrace safer road design such as dedicated bike and bus lanes, better lighting and crosswalks.” Buttigieg urges speed cameras to be used, as they are more effective than stopping police traffic.

These policies like those favored by MADD should be evaluated on their merits. Buttigieg would be better served if he could explain the nature of this “crisis”. The 2020 traffic fatality rate increase is not yet clear if it represents a lasting reverse or an anomaly that’s pandemic-related.