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How a Pandemic Led to an Increase in Car Accident Fatalities

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), motor vehicle accident fatalities reached a staggering 20,160 in 2021. This figure was an 18.4 percent increase from 2020 and the highest number of traffic-related deaths since 2006. If more people were staying at home, how could there be an increase in car accident fatalities when fewer people were driving?

Drivers Engaging in Risky Behavior

There are a few reasons for this. First, people are generally more stressed during a pandemic and may be more likely to take risks as a way of dealing with that stress. Second, with so many people staying home, there may be fewer cars on the road, making it feel like there's less risk involved in risky driving behavior. Finally, people may simply be more careless during a pandemic because they're not thinking about the potential consequences as much as they usually would. The four most common causes of car accident fatalities during the pandemic were found to be the following:

  • Not Wearing a Seat Belt
  • Speeding
  • Alcohol or Drug Use
  • Distracted Driving

Seat Belt Use

The decrease in drivers on the road may be one factor influencing seat belt use during the pandemic. The NHTSA found that the ejection rates for 2020 and 2021 were significantly higher than the ejection rates in 2019. More specifically, the ejection rate in 2020 between week 10 and week 19 surged following the initial declaration of the COVID-19 public health emergency. It further found that males between the ages of 18-34 and in rural areas were the most likely to be ejected from the vehicle during a crash.

There are several reasons why people may choose not to wear a seat belt, even though it is required by law in every state (except New Hampshire). Some people believe that they do not need to wear a seat belt if they are driving a short distance or if they are driving slowly. Others, especially with fewer drivers on the road, believe that they will never get into an accident. However, the NHTSA warns that even low-speed crashes can result in serious injuries or even death if occupants are not properly restrained. Wearing a seat belt is the simplest and most effective way to protect yourself in a crash.


When there are fewer drivers on the road, some drivers may become overconfident and take risks that they would not usually take. A study reported that 7.6 percent of drivers admitted to speeding during the pandemic. In fact, the Associated Press noted that the California Highway Patrol issued almost double the number of speeding tickets from January to June 2021 than they did before the pandemic.

Driving Under the Influence

The same study by Vanlaar et al., showed that 7.6 percent of drivers also admitted to being more likely to drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Another study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health reported that participants admitted to an increase in drinking due to increased stress (45.7 percent) and boredom (30.1 percent).

These studies and their figures were corroborated by the real-world results that followed. In 2020, alcohol-involved traffic fatalities increased by 9 percent.

Distracted Driving

Driver distraction is one of the leading causes of car accidents, and it's only getting worse. Since there are fewer cars on the road, some drivers may feel more comfortable engaging in activities that take their attention away from driving, like using their cell phones. This false sense of confidence can lead to more accidents and injuries, especially if the driver is not paying attention to their surroundings. In 2020, an estimated 3,142 lives were lost due to distracted driving. This figure is only an estimation, as distracted driving is commonly underreported.

How to Remain Safe on the Roads

There are a few key things you can do to help avoid dangerous drivers and keep yourself safe on the roads.

  • Be Vigilant - Always be aware of your surroundings and be on the lookout for potential hazards. This means keeping your eyes peeled for aggressive or distracted drivers and being prepared to take evasive action if necessary.
  • Wear Your Seat Belt - When you wear a seat belt, you're not just protecting yourself -- you are also protecting everyone else on the road. Seat belts save lives by preventing drivers and passengers from being ejected from vehicles during collisions.
  • Maintain Safe Following Distance - If you rear-end a vehicle, it is generally assumed that you were following too closely and were at fault, regardless of whether or not the driver in front of you was texting and driving or not paying attention and had to slam on the brakes. You are responsible for maintaining a safe following distance between your vehicle and the one in front.
  • Never Drink and Drive - If you are going to be drinking, make sure you have a designated driver or another safe way to get home. And if you see someone else who has been drinking and is about to get behind the wheel, do whatever you can to stop them. It could save their life - or someone else's.

In Search of a Car Accident Attorney in San Francisco?

If you were involved in a car accident due to a negligent driver that resulted in injury, you deserve your rightful compensation. The attorneys at Rouda Feder Tietjen & McGuinn are dedicated to fighting for your rights and obtaining your deserved justice.

Contact Rouda Feder Tietjen & McGuinn today at (415) 940-7176 to schedule a free consultation.