TOWSON, MD (Tuesday, March 16, 2021) ––Fewer cars and less traffic on the road during the pandemic did not diminish the risk of dying in a vehicle crash across Maryland in 2020. Curiously, “as traffic volume dropped, vehicle speeds increased, which has played a significant factor in the rise in the fatality rate on our nation’s roadways.” This manifested itself in the region. 

Less-traveled roads did not necessarily translate into a corresponding drop in the number of deaths or an improved traffic safety culture in Maryland, where motor vehicle fatalities were up 12 percent, compared to 2019, and such deaths were up 17 percent when compared to 2018, according to preliminary estimates from the National Safety Council (NSC). Another set of statistics from the state itself is sobering.

Maryland suffered 568 deaths on the road with fewer miles driven, compared to 534 such deaths in 2019, according to data from the Maryland Safety Highway Safety Office. Fatalities were up six percent and crash increased nine percent. In Montgomery County, fatal crashes increased 22% from 32 in 2019 to “39 fatal crashes resulting in 41 fatalities in 2020” as the county reeled from a “notable increase in speeding, impaired, and unbuckled drivers.”

“Sadly, some drivers saw empty lanes and open roads, resulting from the pandemic lockdowns as an invitation to behave irresponsibly and dangerously behind the wheel,” said Ragina C. Ali, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs. “Far too many drivers engaged in speeding, aggressive and reckless driving, drinking alcohol and not buckling up, putting themselves and others in danger.”

The year 2020 was like no other. When the pandemic hit, countries and states, followed by schools, offices, restaurants, movie theaters, venues, and many other businesses, shutdown. In early April 2020, as lockdowns and stay-at-home orders were going into effect, Inrix estimates vehicle miles traveled dropped by 46% in that time period.

For 2020, lower traffic counts meant Baltimore saw a 68% decline, reveals the Inrix 2020 Global Traffic Scorecard. Traffic volume dipped 52% in Frederick, 14% in Annapolis, and 30% in Hagerstown.

The Top 5 Things You Can Do to be Safer in a Car:

Wear Your Seatbelt. Buckle up every person, every time you get in the car. Make sure young children are strapped into appropriately sized and correctly fitted child safety seats. According to the CDC, more than half of the 22,697 people killed in passenger car crashes in 2018 were not wearing seatbelts.

Speed Kills, Slow Down. The faster a driver is going before a crash, the less likely that they’ll be able to get down to a survivable speed even if they brake before impact, finds a recent study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Higher speeds can cancel out the benefits of vehicle safety improvements like airbags and improved structural design.

Avoid Distractions/Don’t Drive Intexticated.Taking your eyes off the roads for two seconds more than doubles your risk of being involved in a crash. In 2019, 3,142 people were killed by distracted driving (NHTSA).

Hands-free isn’t risk-free. Letting your mind gets wrapped up in a conversation, even if you’re not holding the phone, takes your focus off of the road ahead.  Drivers need to avoid or minimize all distractions in the vehicle including passengers, pets, food and drink, and on-board electronics and notifications.

Drive Cautiously, Not Aggressively. Leave plenty of space between you and the car in front of you (at least 3 seconds) to give you time to react to any problems ahead. Look farther ahead than just the immediate area in front of your car and try to anticipate slowdowns by looking for taillights.

Drive Sober. Alcohol-impaired drivers are involved in approximately one-third of all motor vehicle deaths. Nearly 20% of the 1,147 children 14 and younger killed in crashes in 2017 died in alcohol-impaired-driving crashes.   


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