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COVID-19 Caused a Drop in Driving in 2020, but Car Accidents Spiked

Steven R. Andrade Aug. 6, 2021

In March, the National Safety Council (NSC) released its preliminary report on highway safety for 2020. In spite of the fact that there was a substantial decrease in total traffic volume because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the total number of automobile accident fatalities in the United States actually increased last year—wiping out more than a decade of progress. Here, our Santa Barbara car accident lawyer explains the key things we know about the effect the COVID-19 pandemic had on motor vehicle collisions.

The Rate of Catastrophic Car Accidents Was up Nearly 25% in 2020

With the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic can significant government shutdowns. One of the first consequences was a sharp drop in traffic volume. The NSC's final estimate indicates that Americans drove 13% fewer miles in 2020 than they did in 2019. The decline was the sharpest in the early months of the pandemic, particularly in March and April of last year.

Contrary to some predictions from public safety experts, the number of fatal car accidents actually increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. Sadly, more than 42,000 people lost their lives in traffic collisions in 2020. For reference, that is an 8% increase when compared to 2019. When taking into account the sharp decrease in traffic volume, the rate of fatal accidents rose by 24%.

California Was No Outlier: Less Driving, More Accidents

One of the most striking findings from the NSC's report is that the increase in the car accident rate was not confined to any particular state or region. Nearly all states saw more fatal car wrecks in 2020 than in 2019—despite the nationwide drop in driving. Our state was certainly no outlier.

The initial report from the California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) finds that there were 117 more car accident deaths in the state in 2020 than in 2019. Notably, OTS estimates that there was an 8% increase in deadly drugged driving accidents in 2020.

Unsafe Driving Behaviors Likely Increased During the Pandemic

Many public health officials believe that the rise in catastrophic and fatal automobile accidents is another symptom of pandemic-related stress. Notably, the COVID-19 pandemic has also been associated with a rise in substance abuse, drug overdoses, domestic abuse, and violent crime. The NSC theorizes that a rise in unsafe driving behaviors may explain the unfortunate highway safety lapse in 2020. Our roads may have seen more speeding and higher levels of intoxicated driving.

Schedule a Free Consultation with A Car Accident Lawyer in Santa Barbara

At Andrade Law Offices, our Santa Barbara auto accident attorneys have a passion for the law and compassion for our clients. You deserve personalized legal guidance. If you or someone you care about was hurt in a wreck, we are here to help. Contact us right away for a no cost, no obligation review of your car accident claim. Our firm represents injured victims throughout the whole region, including in Santa Barbara, Lompoc, Santa Maria, Guadalupe. Goleta, Buellton, and Carpinteria.