A man crosses an almost empty street in San Francisco on March 17, 2020. Despite a decrease in driving behavior over the past year, the number of road deaths has increased, according to the National Security Council. Jeff Chiu / AP Hide caption
Jeff Chiu / AP
Jeff Chiu / AP
Driving fell significantly in 2020, but a new report found a surprising and alarming statistic: the number of road deaths actually increased last year.
According to the National Security Council (NSC), deaths from motor vehicles rose 8% over the past year, with 42,060 people killed in vehicle accidents.
Comparing road deaths versus kilometers driven, the death toll rose 24% – the highest increase in nearly a century, according to NSC.
“It is tragic that we have taken cars off the road in the US and have not achieved any safety benefits,” said Lorraine Martin, president and CEO of NSC, in a statement.
The non-profit organization estimates vehicle deaths each year and counts deaths on public roads, parking lots and driveways.
Among other things, the group advocates lower speed limits, stricter seat belt laws and the expanded use of driver assistance functions such as automatic emergency braking.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), a government agency, has not yet released its analysis of the deaths in 2020. However, the preliminary results for the first nine months of the year show similar trends, with both the total number of deaths and the death rate increasing noticeably.
NHTSA said it was “too early to speculate on the factors that are contributing”.
Martin, the president of NSC, says her organization has not completed the root cause analysis either.
But she told NPR that it is clear that the less cars on the road, the more risky driving behavior.
“And we know what these risky driving behaviors are, even though we haven’t done all of the analyzes of these specific accidents,” she says. “We know it is accelerating. We know it is driving without a seat belt. And we know it is impaired … and distracted.”
At the beginning of the pandemic, alarm bells rang about this risky behavior. For example, multiple data sources indicated a noticeable increase in speed as empty roads led drivers to step on the accelerator.
Arity, a mobility data analysis company that emerged from insurance giant Allstate, reports that when driving resumes, the over speeding no longer exists.
“We are still seeing higher speeds on the road even after the kilometers driven are back to normal, especially during morning and afternoon rush hours,” the group wrote in February.
And people don’t just accelerate a little – they accelerate a lot. According to Arity, drivers who reached speeds in excess of 80 mph increased on for most of 2020.