A new study examining a spike in U.S. traffic fatalities during COVID-19, despite less vehicles on the road, found higher-risk motorists accounted for a greater share of drivers.
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety research found that while most drivers reduced their driving during the pandemic, four percent of drivers drove more and appeared to be riskier drivers than average.
“Our research finds that higher-risk motorists accounted for a greater share of drivers during the pandemic than before it,” said Dr David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “Safety-minded individuals drove less, while many who increased their driving tended to engage in riskier behaviors behind the wheel.”
The study found those drivers were younger and disproportionately male—a statistically riskier driver group than the average population.
In addition, they were more likely to report engaging risky driving behaviors including speeding, reading a text, red-light running, changing lanes aggressively, not wearing a seatbelt and driving under the influence of drink or drugs.
The U.S. results are the opposite of many other high-income countries where road deaths have been reported to be lower since 2019.
“Despite safer roads, safer vehicles and stronger traffic safety laws on the books, the U.S. has witnessed more, not less death on our roadways even at a time when other nations saw dramatic drops,” said Jake Nelson, AAA’s director of traffic safety advocacy and research. “What is absolutely clear to AAA is that it will take new action to get us closer to zero traffic deaths.”
Data from the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found an estimated 38,680 people died in vehicle crashes in 2020—the largest number of fatalities since 2007 and an increase of about 7.2 percent compared to 36,096 deaths in 2019.