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As Memorial Day Approaches, Road Fatalities Increase Despite Stay-at-Home Orders

May 21, 2020
Even as the number of miles driven falls, motor vehicle fatalities have risen.

Open lanes and stay-at-home orders should mean fewer hazards on the roadway. However, the National Safety Council reports a drastic 14% year-over-year jump in fatality rates per miles driven in March. 

The increase comes as the number of miles driven dropped 18.6% compared to the same time period last year. Lorraine Martin, NSC president and CEO, called the increase in motor vehicle fatalities an "apparent open season on reckless driving."  

"Right now, in the midst of a global pandemic and crisis, we should take it as our civic duty to drive safely," she said. "If we won’t do it for ourselves, we should do it for our first responders, our law enforcement and our healthcare workers, who are rightly focused on coronavirus patients and should not be overwhelmed by preventable car crashes.”

The mileage death rate per 100 million vehicle miles driven in March totaled 1.22, up from 1.07 in March 2019. The NSC also noted an 8% drop in the overall number of roadway deaths compared to March 2019.

While the drop in the total number of deaths can likely be attributed to quarantines and shelter-in-place directives, additional analysis needs to be conducted to examine the "alarming rise" in death rates, the organization states.

The NSC pointed to "anecdotal reports" of drivers speeding and weaving through traffic. It also condemned measures such as those in Georgia that allowed teen drivers to acquire licenses prior to passing road tests. Hours of service rules for commercial vehicle drivers also have been relaxed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The figures were released prior to the NSC's annual announcement regarding road safety during the three-day Memorial Day weekend which begins at 6 p.m. ET Friday, May 22. 

Last year, the organization predicted that 380 people would perish in motor vehicle accidents over the holiday. It even lauded the overall leveling off of roadway deaths after the deadliest three-year period in a half a century.

It's too soon to tell how state orders and the pandemic will impact this year's figures. Still, the NSC estimates that 366 people will perish in motor vehicle accidents this year. The organization based its estimates on previous years. It has been collecting and analyzing data for nearly a century.

The NSC offered the following recommendations to motorists during this Memorial Day weekend and the pandemic:

  • Follow state and local directives and stay off the roads if officials have directed you do to so; many states are asking drivers to stay home except in emergency situations or for essential errands.
  • Obey speed limits, even if roads are clear and traffic is light.
  • Be aware of increased pedestrian and bicycle traffic as people turn to walking and biking to get out of the house safely during quarantine.
  • Pedestrians and bicyclists should remember that reduced traffic does not mean there is no traffic. Be careful when crossing or walking in streets.
  • Practice defensive driving: Buckle up, designate a sober driver or arrange alternative transportation, get plenty of sleep to avoid fatigue, and drive attentively, avoiding distractions.
  • Stay engaged with teen drivers’ habits and practice with them frequently.

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