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Why Did Fatal Car Crashes Increase In 2020 Despite Fewer Drivers On The Road?

Despite state-wide “stay-at-home” orders reducing the number of drivers on the road by 18%, Michigan saw an increase in fatal vehicle crashes in 2020. According to the Michigan State Police Criminal Justice Information Center, more than 1,000 people died as a result of traffic crashes last year, an increase of 12% compared to 2019 and the highest number since 2007. But, Michigan isn’t alone in the increase in fatal traffic deaths. Nationwide, more than 38,500 people died in automobile crashes in 2020, an increase of 7%.

While a majority of traffic crashes involve drivers and passengers, a growing number of fatal crashes also involved pedestrians, motorcyclists, and bicyclists. In 2020 alone, pedestrian/vehicle fatalities increased 17%, motorcyclist fatalities increased 25%, and bicycle/vehicle fatalities increased 81%.

It’s not all bad news, though. Not only were 18% fewer people injured in traffic crashes but the overall number of traffic crashes also decreased by almost 22%. Also, fewer people were injured in traffic crashes. Traffic fatalities involving deer, commercial vehicles, and school buses and trains all decreased in 2020.

If There Were Fewer Drivers on Michigan Roads, Why Did More People Die in Car Crashes?

Car Crash on City Street
Image via Flickr by  danxoneil | Licensed by CC BY 2.0

Traffic safety experts and researchers believe there is no single definitive reason for the increase in fatal car accidents. There is a consensus that more cautious drivers stayed home leaving the risker drivers on the road. These riskier drivers were less likely to adhere to road safety rules instead considering several factors including:

  • Less traffic congestion and a belief that there were fewer law enforcement officers on the road led to changes in driver behaviors. The drivers who braved the roads tended to speed and ignore traffic signs. Higher speeds increase the likelihood drivers lose control and the severity of the crash. In 2020, not only was there an increase of 11% in speeding-related crashes but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA) noted a 20% surge in vehicle occupant ejection.
  • A decline in seatbelt or helmet usage. While there was a decrease in seatbelt and helmet usage nationwide, in Michigan alone there was a 4% increase in fatal crashes among those properly wearing seat belts, compared to a 16% increase in those who did not, according to the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning.
  • More drivers driving while impaired or under the influence. Various studies have shown a broad increase in alcohol consumption during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. That increase may have contributed to the 9% increase in fatal alcohol-related crashes.
  • Lack of awareness of pedestrian safety. The number of pedestrians on the road also decreased leading many drivers to ignore the safety of the people walking the roads. The risky behaviors of drivers such as driving while under the influence and speeding also contributed to the lack of pedestrian awareness and increase in pedestrian deaths. In 2020, Michigan saw a 20% increase in the overall number of pedestrian-involved automobile fatal crashes. The highest increase since 2017.
  • A rise in excessive, or deadly, road rage. Although road rage fatalities are not counted among road fatalities, Michigan law enforcement officers have noticed an increase in the number of incidents escalating to the point of people being shot.

Did you know? Under Michigan law, drivers have to maintain a speed that’s reasonable for the road conditions. Even if you’re driving at or below the speed limit, you could still get a ticket.

What Steps Can I Take To Stay Safe On The Road?

The Michigan State Police recommend several safe driving tips to keep you safe on Michigan roads. One step is universal, regardless if you’re a driver or passenger, always wear your seat belt. Below are tips for drivers, passengers, and pedestrians.

Drivers: One of the most important tips is to obey traffic signals, posted speed limits, signs, and markings. This ensures the safety of everyone on the road. Drivers should also stay alert and eliminate any distractions while driving. This may mean putting your cellphone on “hands-free,” setting your navigation before you depart, and pulling over to text or call. Other tips include using cruise control to help you maintain a safe speed, keeping a safe distance from other cars

Did you know? Texting while driving is illegal in Michigan. There are exceptions if you are reporting crashes, crimes, or other emergencies.

Passengers: You don’t have to be passive. You can help reduce distractions for the driver, by offering to handle the navigation or answering texts from friends you are planning to have dinner with. Passengers can also help the driver stay safe on the road, alerting them to unsafe driving conditions they may have missed while focused on driving.

Pedestrians: Walking Michigan roads shared with cars and other vehicles poses dangers itself. Like drivers, you should also obey traffic signs, signals, and markings. Other tips include staying alert and being visible, by wearing bright reflective clothing, using the sidewalk whenever possible, and crossing the street holding hands with children under the age of ten.

I or a Loved One Was Recently Involved in a Car or Traffic Accident. How Can You Help?

Goodman Acker P.C has more than 150 years of experience helping Michigan residents in the Detroit and Grand Rapids involved in traffic accidents, whether you are a driver, passenger, or pedestrian. Our knowledgeable and dedicated team of attorneys can answer any questions you may have about your case, handle your no-fault claim and work with your insurance adjuster, as well as obtain all necessary evidence to prove your case.

We are also available to assist with a wrongful death claim if you have suffered the unfortunate loss of a loved one. Our law firm has the experience, skill, and knowledge to handle these sensitive cases and guarantee first-hand personal attention from day one. We understand how traumatic being involved in a vehicle accident can be for you and your family. Contact us online or call us today for a free, no-obligation consultation.

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