The year 2020 was one unlike any other — one most of us are glad is in the past.
Among the many parts of life the pandemic affected in Virginia was traffic. Employers in Roanoke and throughout the region told thousands of their employees to work from home. With schools, bars, restaurants, movie theatres and most stores closed and social distancing recommended, there was little reason to drive anywhere.
As a result, there were far fewer car accidents in Virginia last year than usual. But at the same time, deaths in auto wrecks actually went up.
The numbers from the DMV
The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles recently revealed state crash data to the Commonwealth Transportation Board. According to the DMV, there were about 105,600 reported accidents in 2020, a big drop from the yearly average of about 125,000 – 130,000. That’s at least 15 percent fewer crashes.
You would think that accident fatalities would also have gone down. But the DMV reported that deaths actually went up 2.4 percent compared with 2019, to the highest number of traffic deaths since the DMV began maintaining its Traffic Records Electronic Database System in 2009. The worst categories for deaths were in collisions involving speeding and not wearing seatbelts. Drunk driving fatalities also rose slightly. One silver lining is that the number of serious but nonfatal injuries dropped in 2020.
A nationwide trend
These findings are similar to what went on in other states last year: fewer car crashes but more fatalities. Nobody knows for sure why this happened, but experts suspect that for many drivers, emptier than usual streets and highways tempted them into extreme speeding. Stress and anxiety may have led to more drunk driving last year.
Life still has not fully returned to normal, but most of us are driving more this year than we did in 2020. Hopefully, as traffic continues to increase, the crash numbers will not also continue to go up.