Despite Stay-at-Home Orders, U.S. Traffic Deaths Rose in 2020

Dangerous behaviors picked up during the early, low-traffic days of the pandemic are partly to blame.

1 minute read

February 2, 2021, 10:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Street Traffic

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Despite pandemic-induced reductions in driving last year, traffic deaths in the United States rose 4.6% during the first nine months of 2020. "The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 28,190 people died in traffic crashes from January through September of last year, up from 26,941 in the same period of 2019."

With fewer vehicles on the road, some drivers engaged in more dangerous behavior—and are continuing to do so even as traffic starts to return to pre-pandemic levels. Traffic deaths fell slightly in the second quarter, then spiked by 13.1% in the third. Jonathan Adkins, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association, speculates that speeding is the main culprit. "Early in the pandemic, drivers found open roads and drove faster. The behavior continued even as traffic volumes recovered." Intoxicated driving and fewer people wearing seatbelts also play a role in the increased deaths.

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