In the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, fewer vehicles were on our nation’s roadways, as people worked from home, schools and businesses closed their doors, and states issued stay-at-home orders and other emergency restrictions. Now, two-and-a-half years into dealing with the coronavirus, professionals are returning to their offices, schools are back to onsite learning, businesses have resumed operations, and public health restrictions have eased or been lifted.
If life is getting back to normal, then why are motor vehicle accident fatality rates the highest they’ve been in years? This disturbing national trend can be seen here in Maryland, where 255 auto accident deaths have already occurred as of July 1, 2022, according to Zero Deaths Maryland.
In 2021, 559 people died in motor vehicle crashes in Maryland — a 2.4 percent decrease from the 573 fatalities that occurred the previous year. In 2020, Maryland saw 95,507 total motor vehicle crashes, a decline of 17.6 percent from 2019. However, in 2020, more people died in automobile crashes here than in previous years, resulting in an overall 7.1-percent increase in traffic accident fatalities for Maryland.
Maryland traffic accident deaths during the pandemic are in keeping with national trends: While overall motor vehicle accident numbers were down in the U.S. in 2020, fatalities rose an overall 6.8 percent, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). NHTSA reports the nation’s motor vehicle accident deaths hit a 16-year high in 2021, as 42,915 people died in traffic crashes last year, a 10.5-percent increase from the 38,824 fatalities in 2020.
So what is going on here?
Public safety experts and psychologists theorize that pandemic-related stress could be a factor, contributing to motorists engaging in unsafe driving behaviors such as speeding and other aggressive driving behaviors, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, drowsy or fatigued driving, and distracted driving.
In January 2022, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued a National Roadway Safety Strategy, which outlines the country’s approach to reducing serious injury and death on our highways, streets, and roads. The strategy’s five objectives around its “Safe System Approach” are safer people, safer roads, safer vehicles, safer speeds, and post-crash care.
Be careful out there! While we’re all happy to relax and get back to our pre-pandemic activities, driving can still be dangerous. Stay alert, stay sober, and drive defensively.
Fatal Vehicle Crashes in Maryland Spike During Pandemic, Despite Less People on the Road
Capital News Service via MarylandReporter.com May 3, 2022
Newly Released Estimates Show Traffic Fatalities Reached a 16-Year High in 2021
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) May 17, 2022
With traffic deaths on the rise, psychologists are being called on to make driving safer
American Psychological Association June 1, 2022
National Roadway Safety Strategy
U.S. Department of Transportation Jan. 2022