As the COVID-19 pandemic took shape, millions of Americans were sidelined from their normal activities and daily routines. Due to stay-at-home orders, a transition to remote work, and a shared objective to flatten the curve, Americans drove less and covered fewer miles in 2020 than in years prior.
Despite the drop in miles covered, however, the mileage death rate increased dramatically in 2020. As The New York Times reports, data from the National Safety Council and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), show traffic deaths rose nationwide for the first time in years and that between April and June, the fatality rate spiked by 30% compared to the first three months of the year.
In New York City, the trend was even more pronounced. Officials say at least 243 people died in NYC traffic crashes in 2020 – making it the deadliest year on record since the introduction of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative in 2014.
Behind the Numbers: Why Emptier Streets Made for a Deadlier Year
At first glance, the rise in traffic fatalities seems counterintuitive to common sense and historical trends. During economic downturns and reduced traffic congestion, U.S. roads tend to see fewer fatal crashes.
But things were much different in 2020, and federal researchers say the rise in COVID-times traffic deaths has a lot to do with why motorists took to the roads, and how their driving behaviors changed.
A closer look at the numbers shows some of the trends behind the spike in traffic fatalities:
1. Vehicles Became a Way to Get Out of the Home
Amid lockdowns and limited social activities, more Americans began to view their vehicles as a type of personal sanctuary, and found freedom in open streets. This was especially true for younger motorists, who are more likely to engage in riskier driving behaviors and be involved in fatal crashes. Experts also suggest that drugged and drunk driving could have also contributed to higher traffic fatality rates.
Though roads were generally emptier, many people also chose to travel by vehicle rather than risk contracting the virus on public transit or planes, especially during heavy travel periods like the holidays.
2. Vehicles Became a Form of Entertainment
Sparse options for entertainment led many to view motor vehicles as a source of entertainment. Across the country, more people took to motorcycle riding after not being on a motorcycle in years, or ever. In larger cities, drag racing also became more popular.
While pedestrian deaths declined in NYC and bicycle deaths remained about the same, the same cannot be said for other types of vehicle crashes:
- Deaths involving drivers, passengers, and motorcyclists in NYC rose by 76%, the largest increase in over a decade, from 68 in 2019 to 120 in 2020.
- City data showed that motorcycle fatalities in NYC were the highest they have been in over 30 years, and 60% of crashes involved riders who did not have a valid motorcycle licenses.
3. Speeding Increased Dramatically
Many parts of the country saw more speeding tickets issued during COVID than ever before. In California, law enforcement issued 87% more ticks to motorists driving over 100mph in the first month of the state’s lockdown alone, and Georgia State Troopers cited 140 motorists for traveling 100mph+ during one two-week period in April.
New York City also struggled with speeding:
- Automated traffic cameras issued almost twice as many speeding tickets per day last year as compared to 2019.
- Rush-hour traffic speed in Queens in Brooklyn increased by more than 80% in 2020.
- NYC officials said most fatal crashes in the City involved high speeds, and that high-speed wrecks most often occurred late at night and on highways outside Manhattan.
- The City saw more motorcycle fatalities in which only riders were injured or killed, which suggests that motorcyclists were also traveling at higher speeds.
The City’s speeding problem became so bad that NYC officials reduced posted speed limits by 5mph on 9 of the most dangerous roads across the five boroughs.
Staying Safe on NYC Roads
Though there may be multiple factors behind the latest numbers, the underlying reality is that roadway risks during COVID are significantly higher than they were before. While emptier streets may lull us into a false sense of security, the data doesn’t lie: the chance of dying in a car crash is higher than it was before the pandemic.
As a firm that has recovered millions in compensation for victims of auto accidents, The Perecman Firm, P.L.L.C. knows car crashes can have far-reaching consequences on victims and their families. As officials look to stem the tide by refocusing their attention on the City’s Vision Zero project, implementing more protected lanes for non-motorists, and making major changes to the streetscape, it remains as important as ever to prioritize safety when you venture onto public roads and highways. This includes obeying the rules of road, remaining vigilant behind the wheel, and brushing up on vehicle safety preparedness and safe winter driving habits.
Unfortunately, crashes will happen – sometimes to even the most cautious motorists. If you or someone you love has been hurt in a car accident in NYC, you can learn more about your rights and legal options by speaking with an award-winning attorney from our team. The Perecman Firm, P.L.L.C. proudly serves clients across all five boroughs and beyond, and offers FREE consultations.