Car Crash Deaths Rose During the Pandemic – But Why?

In 2020, the number of vehicle miles traveled went down by 13%, but traffic deaths surged to 42,060 – up from 39,107 in 2019, according to estimates from the National Safety Council (NSC). But why did car crash fatalities go up when traffic went down, and why is the United States in the midst of what Vox calls a “car crash epidemic?”

Higher Speeds and Emboldened Drivers

The increase in US road deaths in 2020 is the biggest single-year spike in nearly a century. Experts attribute this spike to emboldened drivers on less crowded roadways. Without traffic, drivers were able to travel at higher speeds, which proved to be lethal in car accidents. Further, more drivers failed to wear seatbelts or drove under the influence of drugs and alcohol in 2020.

Disturbing Trends Continue

Preliminary data suggest the surge of deaths in 2020 is continuing in 2021. Traffic experts say the COVID-19 pandemic has altered traffic patterns but emphasize that pandemic or not, American automotive deaths are a public health emergency.

In other parts of the world, car crash deaths have been going down since 2000, and for many years, America’s auto fatality rate was going down, as well. In the past decade, however, the fatality rate has begun to rise once again.

Prioritizing Pedestrian Safety

Pedestrian deaths make up a significant portion of traffic fatalities every year, which means prioritizing pedestrian safety is a potential solution to the US car crash epidemic. According to Vox:

A pedestrian-first focus would also make motorists safer.”

Improving infrastructure is an important way to prevent car accidents. Unfortunately, the lowest income communities need infrastructure improvements the most and are usually the last to get them. As a result, traffic deaths have a disproportionate impact on black Americans, Native Americans, and people living in low-income neighborhoods.

Learning from Other Countries

America is not the only country with a car crash problem. Globally, car crashes kill about 1.3 million people per year – more than murders and suicides combined. Poor and middle-income countries are the most susceptible to road deaths because of “dangerous road infrastructure, older cars with fewer safety features, higher motorcycle ridership, and less physical separation (like bike lanes) between different types of traffic.”

The United States could learn from these kinds of vulnerabilities, but that would mean acknowledging a structural problem, which goes beyond the country’s current tactic of punishing “bad drivers” and promoting safe driving on an individual level.

What Is a Stroad?

Urban Planner and Municipal Engineer Charles Marohn coined the term “stroad,” which is a combination of street and road. Per Marohn, a stroad is the most dangerous type of road design because it combines a “street” lined with shops and restaurants with a “road” designed for driving at high speeds.

Speed is the most significant factor in traffic fatalities. The faster a vehicle is going, the more likely a fatality will occur if that vehicle hits another car or pedestrian.

America is lined with stroads, which is a recipe for disaster. As Marohn explains:

When we mix high-speed cars with stopping and turning traffic, it is only a matter of time until people get killed.”

People do get killed. All the time. In Brooklyn, one woman was struck by an SUV in a crosswalk, then run over by a school bus. Neither driver was held responsible for her death, which was referred to as a “tragic accident” and stands to symbolize the many casualties of driving in America.

Moving Forward

Driving in the United States should not be as dangerous as it is, and cities, counties, and states can take steps to keep all road users safe.

The best ways to decrease traffic deaths include:

  • Controlling speeds on roadways
  • Adding “traffic calming” devices like speed bumps and narrower lanes
  • Using roundabouts instead of traditional intersections
  • Installing central turn lanes, bike lanes, and shoulders

Notably, the most important thing to do is reduce speed. Lowering the speed limit can be effective with proper enforcement but changing the road itself is more effective. Large cities can also create car-free zones, like Oslo, which banned cars from its city centers.

Ultimately, most roadways should be less friendly to cars and more friendly to bicyclists and pedestrians. Major cities in the United States are already leading the way toward people-focused road design.

In the meantime, remember to always wear your seatbelt and practice safe, defensive driving.

Accountability for Car Accidents

While governments occasionally face liability for defective road design, the at-fault driver usually faces the costs associated with car accidents. This system is often useful for victims, who can recover medical bills, missed wages, and other accident-related damages.

Still, victims can have a hard time recovering compensation on their own, especially when insurance companies do everything in their power to avoid liability.

If you have been harmed in a car accident that was not your fault, Busch, Reed, Jones & Leeper, P.C. may be able to help. We are dedicated to providing honest, value-driven representation and pursuing the best possible results for our clients.

We can help you recover financially after a car accident. All you need to do is call us at (770) 629-0154 or contact us online for a consultation.