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Crashes Down But Fatalities Up In Virginia On Less Traveled Roads In 2020

Fewer cars on the road during the pandemic did not diminish the risk of dying in a vehicle crash in Virginia in 2020. According to Preliminary Data from DMV, traffic crashes across the state in 2020 were down 21% and injuries were down 23%, but fatalities were up 2% during the same time period in 2019. With less traffic on the road, some drivers were willing to engage in dangerous activities behind the wheel. A AAA review of the preliminary data reveals crash deaths involving an unrestrained person were up 17% and speed-related deaths were up 16% in 2020 compared to a year earlier.
2020 was a year 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 Washington DC dropped from the fifth most congested city in America to the 12th, according to the Inrix 2020 Global Traffic Scorecard. Drivers in Richmond saw an 84% drop in hours lost to traffic during 2020, while those in Roanoke saw a 28% decline as many who would be driving to get to an office worked remotely during the pandemic.
“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 AAA Mid-Atlantic Spokesperson Morgan Dean. “Drivers engaged in speeding, aggressive and reckless driving, drinking alcohol and not buckling up, putting themselves and others in danger.”
Last year, law enforcement agencies across Virginia shared numerous citations on social media where drivers were ticketed for speeds in the triple digits. On May 2, 2020, at least eight drivers were stopped in the state for going over 100 miles per hour. According to Virginia State Police, one driver was clocked in Fairfax County doing 132 miles per hour on Interstate 95.
According to DMV, there were 406 speed-related deaths in 2020 compared to 349 in 2019: a jump of 16%. Last year, speed related fatalities made up nearly half (48%) of all deaths on the road in Virginia, compared to 42% in 2019.  Not wearing a seatbelt was also a factor in 48% of all road deaths last year. Even with lower traffic counts, year to year, crashes involving someone not wearing a seatbelt were up 3% and fatalities were up a whopping 17%. That amounted to 62 more lives lost as a result of failing to buckle up.
Percent Change 2019 to 2020(Source: Virginia DMV)
Crash Type:
Alcohol Involved
Speed Related
Unrestrained Person
Distraction Involved
No Change
Cell Phone Involved
Teen Involved
Mature Driver Involved
Bicycle Involved
Motorcycle Involved
A Closer Look:
The number of crashes involving alcohol, cell-phones, teen-drivers, and motorcycles were also down last year compared to 2019, but fatalities in each of those categories were up. With the lower traffic counts, teen-involved driver crashes were down 21%, so were injuries, but deaths from those crashes were up 11%. Alcohol involved crashes were down 9% last year, but deaths were up 3%. Motorcycle crashes were down 9%, but deaths were up 3%. While Cell Phone involved crashes make up a small percentage of total crashes (Around 1%), fatalities were up 38% year to year.
With the lockdowns and stay-at-home orders in place, senior drivers, who are in the highest risk category for contracting COVID-19, stayed home in large numbers. Crashes involving mature drivers in 2020 were down, as were injuries and fatalities from those crashes. Pedestrian deaths were also down on Virginia’s roads last year, but not to levels consistent with the drop in crashes and injuries in that category.
As gyms closed, many turned to cycling for fitness and many stores were sold out of bikes for weeks and months on end. Surprisingly, bike related crashes, injuries and fatalities all dropped in 2020. Bike deaths, which make up a small fraction of the fatalities on Virginia roads (1-2%), were down 38%.
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 in to 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. A recent study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that 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. 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).  As of January 1, 2021, it’s illegal to drive with your cell phone in hand in Virginia. Hands-free isn’t risk free. Letting your mind get 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. Hail a cab, get a Lyft or Uber or have a designated driver if you’re going to be drinking.

Viola Higgins

I’m a mother of 2 little angels that I continuously try to figure out and spend the other half figuring out how to be a great wife. Writing is my passion and I write regularly for the Virginian Tribune and several other national news outlets.

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