By Mike Sheldrick, Senior Editor
The Covid-19 pandemic may have emptied roads, tanked the oil market, and resulted in somewhat cleaner skies. Nevertheless, astonishingly, despite the reduction in vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in the U.S. in 2020, deaths increased: from just over 36,000 in 2019 to 38,680 in 2020, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). This translates into a 23% increase in fatalities per million miles traveled.
These numbers generally agree with earlier estimates in March from the National Safety Council. The reasons, according to NHTSA: Risky driving behaviors, including failure to wear a seat belt, speeding, and drinking while driving.
While distressing numbers may well be another effect of Covid-19 (and even pale compared to the deaths caused by the virus), full analysis certainly won’t be available immediately. The vast amount of data that comprise the NHTSA traffic fatalities each year results in a long delay in the final report for the preceding year, usually in October or later.
For the most part, in virtually every category, NHTSA’s projected estimates look worse in every factor and demographic analysis:
- Non-Hispanic Black people (up 23%)
- Occupant ejection (up 20%)
- Unrestrained occupants of passenger vehicles (up 15%)
- On urban interstates (up 15%)
- On urban local/collector roads (up 12%)
- In speeding-related crashes (up 11%)
- On rural local/collector roads (up 11%)
- During nighttime (up 11%)
- During the weekend (up 9%)
- In rollover crashes (up 9%)
- In single-vehicle crashes (up 9%)
- In police-reported alcohol involvement crashes (up 9%)
The only bright spots the report found were that fatalities in crashes involving a large truck (commercial or non-commercial use) are projected to decline marginally (down 2%). Fatalities among older persons (65+ years of age) are projected to decline by about 9%.
For fleets, the question is how long these conditions will persist even as we are vanquishing Covid-19 and how to combat all the factors that lead to the kind of driving behavior that, in turn, resulted in these numbers. It requires renewed emphasis on the importance of safety.