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Despite Lower Travel Volumes During Pandemic, Maryland’s Motor Vehicle Fatalities Increased 6.4%

April 13th, 2021 by WCBC Radio

Despite fewer drivers on the road due to the COVID-19 pandemic, motor vehicle crashes on Maryland roadways claimed 569 lives in 2020, an increase of 6.4% compared to 535 deaths the previous year. Preliminary data released today by the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) also shows an increase in pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities, from 124 and 10 in 2019 to 134 and 14 in 2020, respectively. Overall crashes and serious injuries decreased, but crashes in 2020 were more severe, contributing to the rise in roadway fatalities. The total number of fatalities was the highest in Maryland since 2008, when the state experienced 592 highway deaths.

“Not only did Maryland tragically lose thousands of lives in 2020 to COVID-19, but we lost an additional 569 lives from motor vehicle crashes,” MDOT Secretary Greg Slater said. “These losses are unnecessary and unacceptable. They represent men, women and children whose lives were cut short way too soon – our family members, friends, neighbors and coworkers. Simple actions such as slowing down, driving sober, putting the phone down and wearing a seat belt could have prevented these tragedies.”

Average vehicle traffic volumes in Maryland dropped more than 50% in April 2020 compared to 2019 and remain down about 11% as citizens and businesses heed Governor Larry Hogan’s support for work-from-home practices for those who can. Despite the decrease in vehicle miles traveled in 2020 during the pandemic, initial police reports show increased speed, increased instances of impairment and lower seat belt use as the most common contributing factors in motor vehicle fatalities.

The reduced number miles traveled during the pandemic, combined with the higher number of fatalities, also impacted Maryland’s overall fatality rate. In 2019, the state experienced 60.1 billion vehicle miles traveled, and with 535 fatalities that year the fatality rate was .89 deaths per every 100 million vehicle miles traveled. In 2020, vehicle miles fell to 51.3 billion statewide – a 14.5% decrease. With 569 fatalities, the rate of deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled rose on 2020 to 1.108.

“It’s unfortunate that as our state dealt with the challenges of a pandemic this past year, there were drivers who disregarded their own safety and the safety of others, and took advantage of a decreased traffic volume to increase speed and related dangerous driving behaviors,” Maryland State Police Superintendent Colonel Woodrow W. Jones III said. “The men and women of the Maryland State Police will not relent in their efforts to reduce this surge in traffic fatalities by using data-driven strategies to strictly enforce our traffic laws.  I urge drivers statewide to do their part to help us make our roads safe.”

In August 2020, the MDOT Motor Vehicle Administration’s (MDOT MVA) Highway Safety Office conducted its annual Roadside Observation Seat Belt Survey at 130 select sites in 13 jurisdictions. The survey observed more than 48,500 vehicles and found 89.9% of front seat occupants were observed using a seat belt – a decrease from 90.4% and 90.3% in 2019 and 2018, respectively.

“Every year we see the same factors contributing to roadways fatalities: speed, distractions, impairment and lack of seat belt use. As a community, we must challenge each and every person to take responsibility when they get in a vehicle or travel on our roadways,” said MDOT MVA Administrator Chrissy Nizer, who also serves as Governor Hogan’s Highway Safety Representative. “Highway safety partners across the state are committed to saving lives, but it’s going to take action by every Marylander to end these tragedies and reach our goal of zero fatalities and serious injuries by 2030.”