2020 has been the deadliest year for Illinois drivers in 13 years. Illinois vehicle deaths surged in 2020 despite fewer cars on the road. Do you think the Covid-19 Pandemic is to blame?
Facts about Illinois vehicle deaths
About 1,166 people died in motor vehicle crashes in Illinois in 2020, a nearly 16% increase over 2019, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation. Illinois traffic fatalities haven’t been that high since 2007 when 1,248 people died.
These motor vehicle deaths include drivers, passengers, pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists.
The National Safety Council estimated 18,300 motor vehicle deaths in the first half of 2020, which was a slight increase from the previous year. Since these are national statistics, it’s clear that Illinois is not the only state experiencing this issue, and that an uptick in traffic fatality rate is a country-wide problem.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which in December published projections regarding traffic fatalities for the first nine months of 2020, also reported an increase. Although Americans were estimated to have traveled 355.5 billion fewer miles than normal in that period, (down nearly 15% compared with the first nine months of 2019) there were more traffic deaths.
The NHTSA reported about 28,190 people died in crashes from January to September 2020, more than a thousand more fatalities than in the same period in 2019
As the year went on and more data was collected, the trend of vehicle deaths in 2020 continued. The NHTSA reported about 28,190 people died in crashes from January to September 2020, more than a thousand more fatalities than in the same period in 2019, the federal agency estimated. A full annual report is expected to be released in the late fall.
According to the agency, more vehicle deaths in 2020 occurred among men, people aged 18-34, and those living in rural areas. More older people, who are generally more risk-averse, stayed home during the pandemic.
So what is the cause of this frightening increase in the death rate?
Why so many traffic fatalities?
Lower Traffic Volumes
One unlikely issue seems to be a lack of congestion. You might remember when stay-at-home orders were issued last year and Illinois roads were nearly vacant, with the majority of drivers being essential workers. While the number of motorists on the road is not as low as they were at the start of the pandemic, many workers and students are still operating remotely, so driving numbers have not returned to normal yet.
Among those seriously and fatally injured, fewer were wearing seat belts, and more were testing positive for alcohol and drugs
Although less traffic sounds like it would create safer driving conditions, it actually leads to excessive speeding and reckless driving behavior. Last April, when traffic volumes were down by about 70%, the Chicago Department of Transportation warned that speeding had increased by 14%. Motorists tend to think they can get away with this driving behavior when there is a lesser number of people on the road. In reality, they end up causing more motor-vehicle fatalities.
Alcohol and Drug Use
Other factors that contribute to traffic crashes point to impairment due to alcohol and drug use, which have also seen an uptick during the Coronavirus pandemic and cause drivers to make unsafe decisions like neglecting to wear seatbelts. In the first half of 2020, the NHTSA noted that among those seriously and fatally injured, fewer were wearing seat belts, and more were testing positive for alcohol and drugs.
Most studies in the last several years have identified distracted driving as the number one leading cause of traffic fatalities, especially among younger drivers, and we don’t doubt that it this has contributed to vehicle deaths in 2020. Actions like texting, talking on the phone, eating, and adjusting the radio are all actions that are categorized as distracted driving. Even though these seem like insignificant things that most drivers have done at some point, they tend to be the most deadly.
Irregular Traffic Patterns
Traffic is also spread out more throughout the day, instead of just at rush hour. Since lockdowns have taken place, people now have different schedules than they did pre-pandemic, so the lines between rush hour and traffic lulls are more blurred. This irregularity may be contributing to motor vehicle traffic crashes.
How can Illinois drivers respond?
There is heightened concern that as more and more people go back on the roadways when the pandemic subsides and people go back to work and school, these patterns and behaviors might not have subsided. This is a scary prospect because as people continue to ignore speed limits, neglect wearing their seat belts, and drive impaired, there will be more people on the roads and more opportunities for fatal crashes.
Some officials have advocated for action to make manufacturers include Alcohol Detection Systems in their vehicles by default. The concept of this technology is that sensors detect the alcohol levels on a driver’s breath and if it is over the legal limit, the car will not start. Studies show that adopting this technology could significantly decrease the number of fatalities. There has also been advocacy for crash avoidance technologies, like collision warnings, lane departure warnings, automatic braking, blind-spot detection, and rearview cameras.
When to Contact a Car Accident Lawyer
If you have been injured in a car crash in the Chicago area, or any accident, as a result of someone else’s negligence, contact us immediately. You have legal rights and nationally-recognized car accident injury lawyer Mario Palermo can help you exercise them. Call (630)684-2332 for a free consultation regarding the best approach to obtaining compensation for your injuries.