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Motor Vehicle Fatality Rates Up 14 Percent in March, Despite COVID-19

As it turns out, the empty roads during the COVID-19 pandemic are riskier than before. According to a news release from NSC, while Americans have been driving less and covering fewer miles, the amount of motor vehicle deaths has increased in some places.

Early data indicates a year-over-year 14 percent jump in fatality rates per miles driven in March, in spite of an 8 percent drop in the total number of roadway deaths compared to March 2019. The number of miles driven dropped 8.6 percent compared to the same time period last year. Still, the mileage death rate per 100 million vehicle miles driven was 1.22 in March compared to 1.07 in March 2019.

The following states have seen an increase in roadway deaths within the first three months of 2020: Arkansas (16 percent), California (8 percent), Connecticut (42 percent), Illinois (11 percent), Louisiana (23 percent), Nevada (10 percent), New York (17 percent), North Carolina (10 percent), Oklahoma (9 percent), Tennessee (6 percent) and Texas (6 percent).

The following states have seen decreases: Arizona (-4 percent), Hawaii (-32 percent), Idaho (-28 percent), Iowa (-13 percent), Maryland (-13 percent), Michigan (-12 percent), Oregon (-24 percent) and South Carolina (-12 percent).

Unfortunately, many people die from roadway accidents during holiday weekends, including Memorial Day weekend (Friday, May 22—Monday, May 25). Last year, the NSC estimated that 380 people would die on the road for 2019’s Memorial Day weekend, and an additional 43,300 may be injured.

This year, NSC estimates 366 potential fatalities. If the estimate holds, it will be the lowest number of fatalities for the holiday period since 2014.

Still, the high number of roadway accidents during the pandemic is cause for concern. NSC suspects the empty roads are an invitation for reckless driving:

“Disturbingly, we have open lanes of traffic and an apparent open season on reckless driving,” said Lorraine M. Martin, NSC president and CEO. “Right now, in the midst of a global pandemic and crisis, we should take it as our civic duty to drive safely. If we won’t do it for ourselves, we should do it for our first responders, our law enforcement and our healthcare workers, who are rightly focused on coronavirus patients and should not be overwhelmed by preventable car crashes.”

Anecdotal reports indicate that speeding, for example has increased significantly since traffic has lessened. Some states are approving “ill-advised” roadway tactics intended to respond to the pandemic, but many might have bad consequences. For example, many states are repealing requirements for teen drivers to pass road tests before acquiring licenses and relaxing hours of service rules for commercial vehicle drivers.

To help ensure safer roads, especially during the pandemic, NSC urges people to do the following on the road:

  • Follow state and local directives and stay off the roads if officials have directed you do to so; many states are asking drivers to stay home except in emergency situations or for essential errands
  • Obey speed limits, even if roads are clear and traffic is light
  • Be aware of increased pedestrian and bicycle traffic as people turn to walking and biking to get out of the house safely during quarantine; conversely, pedestrians and bicyclists should remember that reduced traffic does not mean no traffic, and be careful when crossing or walking in streets
  • Practice defensive driving: Buckle up, designate a sober driver or arrange alternative transportation, get plenty of sleep to avoid fatigue, and drive attentively, avoiding distractions
  • Stay engaged with teen drivers’ habits and practice with them frequently – tips are available at nsc.org/DriveitHOME
  • Organizations and employers are encouraged to join the Road to Zero Coalition, a 1,500-member group committed to eliminating roadway deaths by 2050

NSC collects fatality data every month from all 50 states and the District of Columbia and uses data from the National Center for Health Statistics, so that deaths occurring within one year of the crash and on both public and private roadways—such as parking lots and driveways—are included in the estimates.

NSC motor vehicle crashes and estimates for each state can be viewed here.

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