Study Released on COVID's Impact on Traffic Safety

Study Released on COVID’s Impact on Traffic Safety

A study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that the number of traffic fatalities increased significantly in the U.S. during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A new study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety indicates that the number of traffic fatalities increased significantly in the U.S. during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The study showed that despite a brief reduction during the initial months of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of people killed in motor vehicle crashes in the U.S. surged in 2020 to its highest level in over a decade.

The purpose of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s research is to advance the understanding of how safety on U.S. roads changed during the pandemic, beyond its initial months, by comparing the involvement of specific crash-, vehicle- and driver-related factors in fatal crashes during the eight-month period of May through December 2020 to what would have been expected had the pandemic not occurred and pre-pandemic trends continued.

Data from all fatal crashes in the U.S. from 2011 through 2019 were used to develop statistical models of the monthly number of fatal crashes through December 2019. These models were then used to forecast how many fatal crashes would been expected in each month of 2020 without the pandemic. Overall, the number of traffic fatalities in 2020 was 2,570 (7.1%) more than expected based on pre-pandemic trends. However, a sharp decrease in traffic fatalities in March and April 2020 partially offset an even larger increase later in the year. During the eight-month period of May through December 2020, the number of traffic fatalities was 3,083 (12.1%) more than expected. Importantly, however, this increase was not uniform across all factors examined.

A total of 38,824 people died in motor vehicle crashes in the U.S. in 2020, 2,570 (7.1%) more than forecast from models developed using data from 2011 through 2019 (Figure). In April 2020 — the first full month of the pandemic — the number of fatalities was much lower than what would have been expected based on pre-pandemic trends. By May 2020, however, the actual number of fatalities was similar to historical levels. The number of fatalities greatly exceeded forecasts based on pre-pandemic trends for the remainder of 2020. In May through December collectively, there were a total of 28,611 traffic fatalities nationwide, which was 3,083 (12.1%) more than expected based on pre-pandemic trends.

The increase in traffic fatalities was not uniform across crash-, vehicle- and driver-related factors. Scenarios present in greater-than-expected numbers in fatal crashes in 2020 included evening and late-night hours; speeding drivers; drivers with illegal alcohol levels; drivers without valid licenses; drivers of older vehicles; drivers of vehicles registered to other people; crash involvement and deaths of teens and young adults; and deaths of vehicle occupants not wearing seatbelts. In contrast, several crash types followed pre-pandemic trends (e.g., crashes in the middle of the day, crash involvements of drivers with valid licenses and pedestrian fatalities), and a few decreased (e.g., crashes of elderly drivers and crashes during typical morning commute hours).

For a more in-depth look at this study, click here.

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