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Traffic Fatalities Surged During the Pandemic


Crash statistics normally correlate with traffic – as traffic increases, crashes increase; when traffic decreases, crashes decrease. However, this is not what happened during the COVID-19 pandemic. Fewer people were driving, but the number of severe crashes surged.

The Deadly Pandemic Surge

The NHTSA says 38,680 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2020. This was the largest number of fatalities since 2007. Even more alarming, the fatality rate surged from 1.11 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles driven to 1.37 fatalities per 100 vehicle miles driven. Fewer people were driving, but more of them were dying.

This deadly trend continued in 2021. The NHTSA says an estimated 42,915 people died in traffic crashes in 2021 – a 10.5% increase compared to the already-high numbers of 2020.

Reckless Driving May Be to Blame

The surge in deaths raises an obvious question: why? If fewer people were on the road, why were more fatal crashes occurring?

The primary reason appears to be reckless driving. Maybe people took the open roads as an excuse to speed or the stress and frustration of the pandemic contributed to road rage and risky behavior. Regardless, there have been many reports of reckless driving. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) says speeding increased during the morning and afternoon rush hours during the first months of the pandemic. Looking at data from the Virginia Department of Transportation, IIHS determined that the proportion of people speeding by 10 mph or more increased by 30% to 40%. Between 3:00 p.m. and 5:59 p.m., speeding increased by 63%.

The National Trend May Finally Be Reversing

The recent spike in traffic fatalities is troubling, but there is hope. Based on data from the first nine months of 2022, the NHTSA has found that traffic fatalities appear to be leveling off. During this period, an estimated 31,785 people died – a 0.2% decrease compared to the same period in 2021. Although this is only a small drop, it’s important to note the number of miles driven also increased during this time.

But Traffic Fatalities in Hawaii Are Getting Worse

Although the U.S. saw traffic fatalities increase overall, there were some differences between states.

The Hawaii Department of Transportation says 108 people died in traffic fatalities in 2019. In 2020, this number actually dropped to 85, bucking the nationwide trend. However, deaths increased to 94 in 2021.

The 2022 figures might be worse. Hawaii News Now says 60 traffic fatalities were reported in about the first half of 2022 – a 30% increase compared to the same period in 2021. This is an alarming figure.

Staying Safe on the Road

Hawaii News Now says the Department of Transportation has been implementing plans to help reverse the rising traffic fatalities, including raised crosswalks and signs. Hopefully, these measures will make a difference, but individual drivers must take responsibility.

  • Don’t speed. The NHTSA says speeding killed 11,258 people in 2020. Even if the roads seem emptier than usual, there may still be cars and pedestrians around. Slow down and save a life.
  • Pay attention. The NHTSA says distracted driving killed 3,142 people in 2020. Texting takes your eyes off the road and your hands off the wheel. In Hawaii, it’s illegal to text or use a hand-held electronic device, such as a cell phone or mp3 player, while driving. Other activities, such as eating and changing the music, can also distract you from the road.
  • Calm down. Traffic delays are common. If you’re constantly feeling rushed, give yourself more time. Aggressive driving can contribute to speeding, unsafe lane changes, and other risky behaviors.
  • Rest up. The NHTSA says drowsy driving killed 633 people in 2020. Avoid driving when you are tired and pull over if you need to. Also be aware of how medications may impact you – drivers can face DUIs for driving under the influence of over-the-counter and prescription medicine.
  • Wear your seat belt. The NHTSA estimates that seat belts saved 15,000 lives in 2016 – around 2,500 more lives could have been saved if everyone used seat belts. Use your seat belt even on short trips and make sure your passengers also buckle up.

Are you doing your part to prevent traffic fatalities? Safe drivers tend to save on car insurance. Find an agent.