When the pandemic hit in 2020, Washington saw less-congested roadways as schools, businesses and other destinations shut down for safety reasons. The Federal Highway Administration says the number of miles traveled by motorists fell by 13% when compared to 2019.
Highway safety experts expected one silver lining would be a drop in traffic fatalities across the U.S. Instead, motorist deaths surged by 7% last year, which was the biggest increase in over a decade. An even greater increase resulted for those seriously injured in motor vehicle accidents.
DUI deaths and injuries are also rising
This deadly trend continues in 2021, according to statistics from the Washington Traffic Safety Commission (WTSC). The agency offered these disturbing takeaways in early June:
- DUIs resulting in death have risen by 12.4%
- DUIs resulting in serious injuries have surged by 32.4%
These discouraging numbers prompted the Washington State Patrol and local law enforcement to increase patrols at least through the Labor Day holiday.
Careless and impaired drivers are to blame
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says as roads became less congested due to the pandemic, drivers took more risks by drinking, taking drugs or speeding while fewer people were wearing their seat belts. Preliminary 2020 numbers show:
- 38,680 people were killed in traffic crashes, the most since 2007
- 23,395 of those victims were in passenger cars – up 5%
- 5,015 motorcyclists died in crashes – up 9%
- 846 bicyclists were killed – up 5%
- 6,205 pedestrians died – about the same as 2019
Empty streets meant faster speeds
Safety experts say excessive speeds are likely to blame for much of the rise in traffic deaths. The NHTSA measured highway speeds in the nation’s largest cities in 2020, finding average MPH increases of 35%. Average speeds in Seattle soared by 45%, placing the Emerald City only behind Detroit, Denver and Atlanta.
While traffic levels are returning to normal, the number of speeding, impaired or careless drivers are not decreasing. Safety experts say political leaders and law enforcement at all levels must address this disturbing trend through enforcement and education to make the roads safer for everyone.