Miles traveled, crashes down in Virginia in 2020: But fatalities actually increased
We weren’t driving nearly as much in 2020, for obvious reasons, but fewer cars on the road during the pandemic did not diminish the risk of dying in a vehicle crash.
According to Preliminary Data from DMV, traffic crashes across the state in 2020 were down 21 percent and injuries were down 23 percent, but fatalities were up 2 percent during the same time period in 2019.
Part of the reason: with less traffic on the road, some drivers were willing to engage in dangerous activities behind the wheel.
Inside the numbers
A AAA review of the preliminary data reveals crash deaths involving an unrestrained person were up 17 percent, and speed-related deaths were up 16 percent in 2020 compared to a year earlier.
This as Inrix estimated that vehicle miles traveled dropped 46 percent in the first month of the pandemic, and for all of 2020, lower traffic counts meant Washington, D.C., dropped from the fifth most congested city in America to the 12th, according to the Inrix 2020 Global Traffic Scorecard.
Drivers in Richmond saw an 84 percent drop in hours lost to traffic during 2020, while those in Roanoke saw a 28 percent decline as many who would be driving to get to an office worked remotely during the pandemic.
“Sadly, some drivers saw empty lanes and open roads, resulting from the pandemic lockdowns as an invitation to behave irresponsibly and dangerously behind the wheel,” said AAA Mid-Atlantic Spokesperson Morgan Dean. “Drivers engaged in speeding, aggressive and reckless driving, drinking alcohol and not buckling up, putting themselves and others in danger.”
Last year, law enforcement agencies across Virginia shared numerous citations on social media where drivers were ticketed for speeds in the triple digits. On May 2, 2020, at least eight drivers were stopped in the state for going over 100 miles per hour.
According to Virginia State Police, one driver was clocked in Fairfax County doing 132 miles per hour on Interstate 95.
According to DMV, there were 406 speed-related deaths in 2020 compared to 349 in 2019: a jump of 16 percent. Last year, speed related fatalities made up nearly half (48 percent) of all deaths on the road in Virginia, compared to 42 percent in 2019.
Not wearing a seatbelt was also a factor in 48 percent of all road deaths last year.
Even with lower traffic counts, year to year, crashes involving someone not wearing a seatbelt were up 3 percent and fatalities were up a whopping 17 percent. That amounted to 62 more lives lost as a result of failing to buckle up.
The number of crashes involving alcohol, cell-phones, teen-drivers, and motorcycles were also down last year compared to 2019, but fatalities in each of those categories were up. With the lower traffic counts, teen-involved driver crashes were down 21 percent, so were injuries, but deaths from those crashes were up 11 percent.
Alcohol involved crashes were down 9 percent last year, but deaths were up 3 percent. Motorcycle crashes were down 9 percent, but deaths were up 3 percent.
While mobile phone-involved crashes make up a small percentage of total crashes (around 1 percent), fatalities were up 38 percent year to year.
As gyms closed, many turned to cycling for fitness and many stores were sold out of bikes for weeks and months on end. Surprisingly, bike-related crashes, injuries and fatalities all dropped in 2020. Bike deaths, which make up a small fraction of the fatalities on Virginia roads (1-2 percent), were down 38 percent.
Top 5 Things you can do to be safer in a car
Wear Your Seatbelt. Buckle up every person, every time you get in the car. Make sure young children are strapped in to appropriately sized and correctly fitted child safety seats. According to the CDC, more than half of the 22,697 people killed in passenger car crashes in 2018 were not wearing seatbelts.
Speed Kills, Slow Down. A recent study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that the faster a driver is going before a crash, the less likely that they’ll be able to get down to a survivable speed even if they brake before impact. Higher speeds can cancel out the benefits of vehicle safety improvements like airbags and improved structural design.
Avoid Distractions/Don’t Drive Intexticated. Taking your eyes off the roads for two seconds more than doubles your risk of being involved in a crash. In 2019, 3,142 people were killed by distracted driving (NHTSA). As of January 1, 2021, it’s illegal to drive with your cell phone in hand in Virginia. Hands-free isn’t risk free. Letting your mind get wrapped up in a conversation, even if you’re not holding the phone, takes your focus off of the road ahead. Drivers need to avoid or minimize all distractions in the vehicle including passengers, pets, food and drink and on-board electronics and notifications.
Drive Cautiously, Not Aggressively. Leave plenty of space between you and the car in front of you (at least 3 seconds) to give you time to react to any problems ahead. Look farther ahead than just the immediate area in front of your car and try to anticipate slowdowns by looking for taillights.
Drive Sober. Alcohol-impaired drivers are involved in approximately one-third of all motor vehicle deaths. Nearly 20% of the 1,147 children 14 and younger killed in crashes in 2017 died in alcohol-impaired-driving crashes. Hail a cab, get a Lyft or Uber or have a designated driver if you’re going to be drinking.