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Car-Crash Death Rate Surged in 2020

“From April 1 to May 21, Minnesota State Patrol ticketed 232 drivers for going more than 100 mph. By the end of the year, troopers had issued more than 1,000 citations for going that fast—around double the number from the previous year. The top speed in the state, recorded on a citation written in October, was 153 mph.” —The Wall Street Journal

The implications of Covid19 have been far-reaching. For all of us, this has been a very unusual moment in history. Covid19 has been devastating for many and a bonanza for a few. The pandemic has killed hundreds of thousands, crushed airlines and restaurants, but has been a boon for tech companies like Zoom. From record unemployment to delayed elective surgeries to a Renaissance in home cooking and cycling, the pandemic has had a massive impact (some positive and some very negative) on our lives. One thing is for certain—the implications and effects of the pandemic are manifesting themselves in many peculiar and unpredictable ways.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported some curious, interesting, and troubling statistics that are directly related to Covid19. While drivers travelled materially less miles in 2020, they drove a lot faster. The data is fascinating. While vehicle miles dropped by 17% in 2020, the rate of fatalities per 100 rose 18%. As the WSJ article below outlines, “In other words, an inordinate number of people died given how many fewer miles they traveled. It was the highest motor-vehicle fatality rate for that span of time in a dozen years.”

See below for the reposted WSJ article:

Last year, stay-at-home orders to combat Covid-19 cleared the roads of congestion. Fewer competing vehicles should have made driving safer—but instead, the rate of fatal crashes climbed as unimpeded speed demons put the pedal to the metal.

Now, traffic is back to normal in many areas, but some lead-footed drivers are still going full throttle.

“The unfortunate part is we haven’t seen that behavior abate,” said Michael J. Hanson, director of the Office of Traffic Safety at the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.

From April 1 to May 21, Minnesota State Patrol ticketed 232 drivers for going more than 100 mph. By the end of the year, troopers had issued more than 1,000 citations for going that fast—around double the number from the previous year. The top speed in the state, recorded on a citation written in October, was 153 mph.

Historically, economic downturns have led to fewer vehicle miles traveled as well as lower rates of motor-vehicle deaths, but last year took a different turn.

Nationally, vehicle miles traveled dropped an unprecedented 264.2 billion miles over the first half of 2020, a decline of 17% compared with the first half of 2019, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In the same period, the agency estimated the number of fatalities shrank 2%, falling to 16,650 from 16,988 the previous year. But the rate of fatalities grew 18%, rising to 1.25 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, up from 1.06.

In other words, an inordinate number of people died given how many fewer miles they traveled. It was the highest motor-vehicle fatality rate for that span of time in a dozen years.

“On less-congested roads, you get fewer collisions, but the collisions you do have are more severe,” said Bob Pishue, an analyst with INRIX, a company that studies traffic patterns.

In a report released last month, Mr. Pishue examined how the Covid-19 pandemic affected collisions on the busiest roads in the nation’s top 25 metropolitan areas and found a 31% increase in the fatality rate during the second quarter. A significant factor in the deaths was speed.

Across the country, at least a dozen states reported clocking vehicles at more than 100 mph, but Minnesota was the first to alert the Governors Highway Safety Association of an increase in the dangerous trend.

“They reached out and said, ‘Hey, is anyone else seeing anything crazy, because here it’s nuts,’ ” said Pam Fischer, an association spokeswoman.

The California Highway Patrol issued 2,493 citations for driving more than 100 mph in the first month of the lockdown, from March 19 to April 19, compared with 1,335 in the same period the previous year.

The Nebraska State Patrol issued 902 citations for going at least 100 mph through October, compared with an average of 538 for the same period in previous years.

And New York City, as The Wall Street Journal recently reported, is on track to record the highest number of traffic deaths since launching a safety initiative in 2014.

In addition to speeding, NHTSA—in a special report examining traffic safety during the second quarter of 2020—found that driving while impaired and forgoing seat belts were prevalent as well.

Last April, the ejection rate was double what it had been the previous year, according to the report, pointing to a decrease in seat-belt use. And data from five trauma centers revealed a higher prevalence of alcohol, marijuana and opioids in crash victims throughout the second quarter compared with previous years.

Travel is now close to pre-Covid-19 levels across the country, but INRIX has found that traffic patterns remain fundamentally changed, perhaps contributing to some drivers’ continuing willingness to push the envelope and risk paying the price.

“The 5 p.m. rush hour is close to normal, but there are free-flow speeds in the morning and very little congestion,” Mr. Pishue said. “Until employers feel comfortable employees will be safe coming into the office, it’s likely to stay this way for a little while.”

In the meantime, traffic-safety officials such as Mr. Hanson are trying to get drivers to ease off the gas.

“Speed is the one driver behavior that makes every mistake worse,” he said, “and it’s a preventable behavior.”

Boiled down, his message to the remaining speed demons is simple.

It’s time to slow your roll.

Write to Jo Craven McGinty at Jo.McGinty@wsj.com

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One Response to Car-Crash Death Rate Surged in 2020

  1. Bob Kahrl January 15, 2021 at 4:20 pm #

    As a practicing marriage counselor, I can relate this story to what I know and see. The fundamental premise of my work is that men are warriors and women are nurturers. This is a hard-wired characteristic of the species. Men strive for adventure. Women strive for safety. The pandemic tends to deny to men the adventure of leaving home every day, or in primitive terms, of going hunting every day. They feel cooped up, even if they do not consciously recognize this. So, what adventures are available to them? Driving a car is one thing available to them. Having an adventure driving a car is available to them. So in the absence of so many other manly adventures, and with governments pushing everyone to stay home, it is only natural for men to seek an outlet for that warrior mentality. I would be interested in knowing how many of those over-100-mph tickets were issued to men vs. women. If I am right, it would be over 90% to men.