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Vehicle accidents decreased in 2020 but fatal accidents increased. How can this be?

car wreck

It may seem counterintuitive, but Michigan’s traffic fatalities increased during 2020 despite there being fewer drivers on the road.

Earlier this summer, preliminary estimates of crash fatalities showing the largest number of fatalities since 2007 were released by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Throughout the U.S. there were nearly 39,000 people who died in auto crashes in 2020, which amounts to a 7.2% increase from the previous year.

In Michigan, 1,083 people died in auto crashes, an increase of 9.9% deaths compared to the previous year, according to the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning.

Yet there were decidedly fewer vehicles on the road for work-related reasons in 2020 because of the arrival of COVID-19. So, what gives?

Road travel increases

Michigan’s travel did decrease during the pandemic due to stay-at-home orders. The state even exceeded the national decline, according to Street Light Data Inc., a transportation analysis firm that uses smartphones and navigation devices to track vehicle travel.

Nationally, traffic dropped 64% in April 2020 compared to pre-pandemic levels in January, while Michigan road traffic dropped even lower than the national average, to 73%.

Another interesting statistic is that while traffic accidents overall decreased by 21.9% in Michigan, fatal crashes increased by 12%. There is not an obvious reason for this dichotomy, but one could be the increase in inexperienced drivers, the increase in longer road trips which can lead to tired drivers and more human mistakes, and more driving in unfamiliar areas on these trips.

One factor could be cautious drivers being more likely to have stayed home, leading to a more concentrated population of riskier drivers on roads. For example, crash data shows that seat belt usage declined as well.

There was a 4% increase in fatal crashes among those properly wearing seat belts, compared to 16% increase in those who did not, according to Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning data.

What does this mean?

Auto, truck, and motorcycle accidents can happen anywhere and at any time. Human error is often the cause. If you or someone you know has been injured in a recent auto accident, contact the experienced auto accident attorneys at Bashore Green. We will help determine if you might be eligible for compensation because of another driver’s error.