Speed, Alcohol, and Drugs Increase U.S. Traffic Fatality Rate

Christian Wardlaw | Jan 14, 2021

What should be obvious apparently is not: speed, alcohol, and drugs are a deadly combination. 

NHTSA Fatality Rates 2020

New preliminary data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) shows that as Americans traveled fewer miles due to the pandemic, fatality rates increased. Overall, during the first nine months of 2020, deaths rose 4.6% despite a 14.5% drop in vehicle miles traveled. During the third quarter of 2020, after states lifted coronavirus lockdowns, the death rate rose 13.1% compared to the same period in 2019.

In an open letter to American drivers, the NHTSA said: “Preliminary data tells us that during the national health emergency, fewer Americans drove, but those who did took more risks and had more fatal crashes.” 

Drivers may believe that lax law enforcement allows for riskier driving behavior. Jonathan Adkins, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association, told the Associated Press: “A big factor here is the lack of enforcement. We are hearing from many states that traffic stops have declined during COVID-19. Drivers feel like they can speed and get away with it,” he said.

The NHTSA concurs. Compared to pre-pandemic data, vehicle speeds have risen 22% in several metropolitan areas due to reduced traffic and riskier driving behavior. 

But speed is not the only culprit. According to the NHTSA, 50.6% of drivers treated for injuries suffered in serious crashes had drugs or alcohol in their systems before the pandemic. In 2020, the number rose to 65%.

To protect yourself from reckless drivers, buy the safest vehicle you can afford. Newer models have more protective vehicle architectures than older models. Heavier vehicles protect better than lighter vehicles. Cars are often more stable than SUVs and trucks. Be sure to research crash-test data from the NHTSA and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). And always wear your seat belt.

The NHTSA and the Associated Press are the sources of information for this article. It was accurate on January 14, 2021, but it may have changed since that date.

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