One potential upside of having so much less traffic on the roads in 2020 should have been a decrease in fatal accidents. After all, these stats tend to decline in normal years, so you’d assume that fewer cars would mean fewer accidents and deaths.
However, recent reports reveal that is not what happened at all. Instead, nationwide fatalities were the highest they’ve been since 2007. Car and truck accident deaths rocketed up to more than 42,000 last year. It was a dramatic and surprising increase to many experts.
Why did fatalities rise despite lower rates of travel?
The exact reasons for the increase aren’t known, as there are many potential factors and this news is just coming out. However, one big reason appears to be excessive speed. There has long been a correlation between speed and fatality risks. If you assume that an accident was going to happen no matter what, it’s more likely to lead to a fatality when the car is traveling at a higher speed.
Some have speculated that the lower traffic levels allowed people to drive faster than they could in 2019. This may mean people were speeding and driving recklessly more often, but it could also just mean people were able to drive at or slightly above the speed limit when previous traffic jams would have slowed them down.
If overall speed averages increased, then it does stand to reason that a higher percentage of accidents would lead to fatalities than in previous years.
Time will tell if the theory is correct
As the country opens back up, more commuters on the roads may mean slower traffic. If reports following 2021 reveal fewer fatal motor vehicle accidents, we’ll have an answer.