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Emergency crews work at the scene of a fatal crash involving a charter bus and a car on the AA Highway in Campbell County, Kentucky. The driver of the vehicle died.

How Many People Get Killed In Car Accidents Every Year

How Many People Get Killed In Car Accidents Every Year

It was a number that shocked experts: 38,680 deaths on U.S. roads last year, the highest number since 2007, even as pandemic precautions have drastically reduced driving.

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“This was completely unprecedented,” said Ken Kolosh, a researcher at the nonprofit National Security Council. “We didn’t know what was going on.”

One possibility was that stressed Americans were releasing their anxieties on the open roads. He guessed that fatal accidents would decrease in 2021 when traffic returned.

He was wrong. The latest evidence suggests that after decades of safety gains, the pandemic has made U.S. drivers more reckless — more likely to speed, drink or use drugs, and leave their seat belts unbuckled.

“I worry that we have adopted some really unsafe driving habits and that they will persist,” Kolosh said. “Our roads are less safe than they were before the pandemic.”

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Experts say this behavior on the road is likely a reflection of widespread feelings of isolation, loneliness and depression.

“We can decide: what does a seat belt or another beer matter when we are in the middle of a pandemic?” said Shannon Frattaroli, a researcher at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The rise in motor vehicle deaths aligns with other pandemic-era trends: alcohol sales soared, drug overdoses set new records and homicides saw the largest increase on record.

How Many People Get Killed In Car Accidents Every Year

COVID-19 marks “a sea change in psychology,” said Frank Farley, a psychology professor at Temple University in Philadelphia, who sees reckless driving as a form of rebellion — or what he calls “excitement flight.”

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“You have been confined, locked up and have restrictions that irritate you,” he said. “So if you can have a surge of excitement, you want to embrace it.”

Before the pandemic, safety on U.S. roads had been improving for decades, thanks to enforcement of seat belt laws and the advent of airbags, improved braking and stability control, and other safety features.

As regulators investigate a series of Teslas driving into parked vehicles, Tesla owners have reported faulty collision avoidance systems.

Even as the number of people on the roads increases and many states increase their speed limits, annual deaths have fallen from about 55,000 in 1970 to 36,096 in 2019.

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Then came the 7.2% increase in 2020, followed by an 18% jump in the first six months of this year, based on preliminary numbers from the federal government.

What made last year’s increase so surprising was that total miles driven – an estimate calculated by sampling traffic on various roads – fell by more than 13% as cities closed and more people worked from home.

For every 100 million miles driven last year, 1.37 people died, a 23% increase from 2019. Mileage estimates are not yet available for 2021.

How Many People Get Killed In Car Accidents Every Year

Spread across the country at a time when the country’s attention is focused on COVID-19 deaths, traffic deaths have attracted little public attention.

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Yolanda Bozonier, 59, had just said goodnight to her grandchildren when a drunk driver crashed into her Pomona home, killing her in her bed.

Best friends Kimani Foster, 20, and Dior Berkeley, 19, died together in the backseat of a speeding car that crashed into a tree in Queens, New York.

Sheria Musyoka, 26, said goodbye to his wife before heading out for a morning run in San Francisco, where he was struck and killed in a crash involving eight vehicles.

“We have white crosses marking the sides of the roads, and seeing them is the closest connection many people will feel to this crisis,” said Paul Ravelin, patrol commander for the State Police in Vermont, which has seen the number of deaths rise 32%. last year.

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Pasadena resident Yang Yang Liu, 33, was struck and killed the day after Thanksgiving by a driver who blew up a stop sign.

Failing to investigate the statistics, researchers have difficulty attributing the increase in deaths to any one factor.

How Many People Get Killed In Car Accidents Every Year

Fatalities have increased in cities and rural areas. They increased on highways and secondary roads. They emerged during the night and day, during the week and weekends. They climbed in all age groups between 16 and 65.

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They increased in 41 states — with South Dakota, Vermont, Arkansas and Rhode Island experiencing the biggest increases.

Chief among them is that the Black death rate has risen more than three times faster than the overall death rate, a disparity that may reflect a deeper sense of despair in poorer communities hit hardest by the pandemic.

Frattaroli wondered if this was related to a disproportionate number of people of color in the essential workforce, including delivery drivers who are “paid for how fast they can move.”

In one of the clearest indications of growing recklessness, fatal single-vehicle accidents have also increased disproportionately.

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The data also shows a huge increase in fatal accidents involving speeding, illegal substances or not wearing a seat belt.

Jonathan Adkins, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Assn., a Washington nonprofit that represents agencies across the country, suggested that people’s disregard for themselves and others on the road is part of a national decline in civility that accelerated during the pandemic.

“Interestingly, we’ve heard from governors’ offices across the country that it’s a symptom and a sign of the general lack of consideration we show for our fellow citizens, whether by wearing masks, or by not being vaccinated, or by the way we drive,” he said. . “It’s very aggressive. It’s very selfish.”

How Many People Get Killed In Car Accidents Every Year

In California, which saw a 5% increase in deaths last year, highway patrol officers issued nearly 28,500 tickets for speeds over 100 mph, nearly double the 2019 total. They arrested 232 people for reckless driving — a increase of 150% – and are on track to surpass that number this year.

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Research based on accident investigations has shown that even a slight increase in speed – say, from 80 km/h to 90 km/h – is enough to increase the driver’s risk of death.

Since the start of the pandemic, a higher percentage of crash victims — including those who survived — have been ejected from their vehicles, typically because they were not wearing seat belts.

The increase in ejections was seen right when lockdowns began last year. Men represented a disproportionate share.

Making the roads even more dangerous is the increase in drug and alcohol consumption. In a survey, more than 7% of adults said they were more likely to drive while impaired than before the pandemic.

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Federal researchers who analyzed crashes in which drivers were killed or seriously injured found that the proportion of people testing positive for opioids nearly doubled after the pandemic began. Marijuana use has also increased considerably.

Finally, more drivers are distracted. Researchers used GPS and other data to determine that drivers used their phones more frequently after the pandemic began and that the problem only worsened over time.

Two teenagers have been arrested and charged in connection with a Burbank street racing accident that left three dead and two injured in early August.

How Many People Get Killed In Car Accidents Every Year

Arizona, Arkansas and Georgia have enacted legislation to crack down on street racing. Texas passed a law against “displaying reckless driving” or performing stunts and spins for a crowd of spectators.

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But other states have relaxed their traffic laws. In Virginia, drivers can now go up to 85 mph — instead of 80 mph — before being charged with reckless driving. Drivers in Maine convicted of criminal negligence resulting in a driving-related death now have their licenses suspended for one year instead of three.

Victor Peterzen was riding a bicycle he had just received for his 10th birthday when he was struck and killed by a Jeep in Houston.

Monique Muñoz, 32, died when her car was nearly split in half by another vehicle as its teenage driver sped through a Los Angeles intersection at more than 100 mph.

Diana Granobles, 31, was driving to JFK Airport in New York to pick up her husband when a drunk driver crashed into her car, killing her and her 10-year-old daughter, Isabella.

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Emily Baumgaertner was a national correspondent for the Los Angeles Times focusing on investigations and medical reporting. She joined the newsroom in 2019 from the Washington bureau of the New York Times and left in 2022. Her work has appeared in the Atlantic, the Washington Post, Foreign Policy, Scientific American and elsewhere. A native of New Haven, Connecticut, Baumgaertner earned his master’s degree in public health from George Washington University.

Russ Mitchell covers the rapidly changing global auto industry, with a special emphasis on California, including Tesla, electric vehicles, driverless cars and vehicle safety, for the Los Angeles Times.We use cookies and other tracking technologies to improve your browsing experience at our website, show personalized content and targeted ads, analyze website traffic and understand where our audience is coming from. To find out more or cancel, read our Cookies Policy. Please also read our Privacy

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