During 2020, there were fewer drivers on the roads. Because denser traffic increases the risk of motor vehicle accidents, many researchers expected that the number of collisions would decrease.
They were wrong. Across the United States, the incidence of fatal motor vehicle collisions actually increased. North Carolina reflected the nationwide trend. According to the Charlotte Observer, the statewide death toll on the highways was the highest since 2007 despite a 19% decrease in the number of miles driven.
What accounts for the nationwide trend?
According to NBC News, speed appears to have been the most significant factor behind the increase in fatal collisions during 2020. While researchers expected that fewer vehicles on the road would decrease the risk of accidents, some drivers appear to have taken advantage of the relatively empty roads to drive faster than they would have been able to if there had been more congestion.
Are the same factors behind the statewide trend?
Speed also seems to be a factor behind approximately 25% of North Carolina’s traffic fatalities in 2020. However, one researcher also pointed to distraction as a possible cause. For example, the number of teenagers who lost their lives on the road increased by 15% between 2019 to 2020, and researchers pointed to high school students attempting virtual learning while driving as a possible cause.
However, the researcher also pointed to emotional distraction as a possible contributing factor in addition to visual or auditory stimuli. People worrying about finances or health may not have paid as much attention to the road.
While alcohol has traditionally been a factor in many traffic fatalities, it does not appear to have had much bearing on traffic fatalities in 2020 despite an increase in alcohol use.