Giving Compass' Take:
- Marina Bolotnikova highlights how driving kills about as many people as guns per year and severely injures millions and examines how this can be prevented.
- Why are people of color disproportionately killed by car crashes? How can policy address the underlying causes of this public health issue?
- Read about using autonomous vehicles to create more equitable transit.
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Driving is the most dangerous thing most Americans do every day. Virtually every American knows someone who’s been injured in a car crash, and each year cars kill about as many people as guns and severely injure millions.
It’s a public health crisis in any year, and somehow, the pandemic has only made it more acute. Even as Americans have been driving less in the past year or so, car crash deaths (including both occupants of vehicles and pedestrians) have surged.
Cars killed 42,060 people in 2020, up from 39,107 in 2019, according to a preliminary estimate from the National Safety Council (NSC), a nonprofit that focuses on eliminating preventable deaths. (NSC’s numbers are typically higher than those reported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) because the NSC includes car deaths in private spaces like driveways and parking lots, and it counts deaths that occur up to a year after a crash.)
That increase occurred even as the number of miles traveled by car decreased by 13 percent from the previous year. It was the biggest single-year spike in the US car fatality rate in nearly a century, and 2021 is on pace to be even worse.
Between January and June of this year, NSC reports that car fatalities increased by 16 percent from the same period last year, with areas as diverse as Texas and New York City reporting sharp increases. If the trend continues for the rest of the year, nationwide deaths would reach the highest level since 2006. The NHTSA’s preliminary data estimate a lower but still dramatic 10.5 percent increase in car deaths between January and March 2021 compared to the same months last year.
According to several traffic experts I spoke with, the explanation for the 2020 fatality spike is relatively straightforward: With fewer cars on the road during quarantine, traffic congestion was all but eliminated, which emboldened people to drive at lethal speeds. Compared to 2019, many more drivers involved in fatal crashes also didn’t wear seat belts or drove drunk.
But why has the surge persisted and worsened this year, even as traffic has been picking back up and nearing pre-COVID-19 levels? We don’t entirely know, but it seems to have something to do with the pandemic altering traffic patterns.
Read the full article about the U.S. car crash epidemic by Marina Bolotnikova at Vox.