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Warnken, LLC Attorneys at Law, Attorneys & Lawyers, Pikesville, MD

2021 Saw More Car Crash Deaths Than Before the Pandemic

Why Are Car Crash Deaths Increasing During the Covid-19 Pandemic Era? 

Recently we investigated the troubling pandemic era trend of increased car crash fatalities. Traffic-related deaths in 2020 rose by more than 7% over 2019 levels, even though lockdowns and work-from-home options meant people were driving less. The surge in fatalities was alarming because roadway safety had steadily improved in the decades leading up to the pandemic.

Unfortunately, this deadly pattern shows no sign of stopping. A report released this month by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) confirmed that 31,720 people died in motor vehicle crashes during the first nine months of 2021. This figure is a significant increase from the 28,325 traffic deaths across the same time frame in 2020. The U.S. has not seen traffic death rates this high since 2006.

People Are Getting Back on the Road

The 2021 increase in fatal motor vehicle crashes can be partially attributed to the return of pre-pandemic traffic levels. Per the Federal Highway Administration, overall vehicle miles traveled in the first nine months of 2021 jumped by 244 billion miles from the same period in 2020. This rise in driver density on the roadways is due primarily to the “new normal” of a population that’s now better equipped to manage the logistics of a pandemic thanks to vaccines, the lifting of mask mandates, and the institution of hybrid work schedules.

But more drivers on the road seem to be only part of the picture. Driving habits have undergone a systemic change since the beginning of the pandemic – and not for the better. Risky motorist behaviors like speeding, distracted driving, and not wearing a seatbelt began to rise in 2020 as the pandemic set in and remained elevated through 2021. Evidently, while there’s been improvement in how we’re managing Covid-19 on a national scale, people are still struggling on an individual level with the pandemic’s effects on their mental health – a phenomenon that experts have termed “social disengagement.” This sense that societal norms have frayed and “all bets are off” translates to frustration and aggression on the road – with tragic results.

Minorities and Essential Workers Are More At Risk

Research confirms that Native and Black Americans were more likely to die in a traffic accident long before the pandemic due to complex socio-economic factors. For example, data shows that primarily Black neighborhoods are less likely to have safety features like crosswalks, sidewalks, and road signs and lack the kind of infrastructure funding that allows access to reliable public transportation. And Black and Native Americans are historically overrepresented in pedestrian death rates because they are less likely than other racial demographics to afford a car.

The Covid era has only increased the traffic fatality risk to these vulnerable communities. In 2020, for instance, motor vehicle deaths among Black Americans increased by a staggering 23% from the year prior, a trend that is projected to continue.

Frontline and essential workers – the food service employees, health care professionals, delivery and transport drivers, and warehouse associates who have kept society functioning during the pandemic – are also in heightened danger of a motor vehicle fatality. These workers typically don’t have the luxury of working from home. Instead, they’re commuting to their jobs, day in and day out, on the most dangerous roads in over a decade.

Truck transport workers are particularly vulnerable. Their industry has long had one of the highest rates of occupational fatalities. Now Covid has increased the risk of a tragedy not only for drivers stressed to the max in an era of expanded online shopping and supply chain shortages, but also for the motorists around them. We’ve seen many lawsuits against companies like Amazon and related entities that employ drivers, warehouse associates, and other essential workers who don’t have the privilege of a home office. The pandemic has made the roads much more dangerous for them – and it’s a pattern with no end in sight.