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Study: Fewer Drivers, More Fatal Car Accidents on Texas Roads in 2020

Study: Fewer Drivers, More Fatal Car Accidents on TX Roads in 2020

Motorist Misbehaviors Are Causing Most Deadly Auto Crashes, Data Reveals

The risk of death on Texas roads has surged even as drivers have increasingly stayed off the roads in 2020. That’s the paradox researchers at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) discovered when they looked at the state’s traffic crash data for the first quarter of the year.

Their findings uncover important insights about driver behavior and psychology. They also underscore how most fatal car accidents in Texas continue to be caused by preventable human negligence.

A Closer Look at the Study’s Findings

TTI researchers analyzed car accident statistics for Texas for the first quarter of 2020 to evaluate how traffic safety may be impacted by social distancing. Led by Senior Research Engineer Robert Wunderlich, the TTI team compared crash data from 2020 to data from 2017 through 2019 (for the same span of months). Here’s what they found:

  • Overall, auto accidents in Texas in 2020 fell by nearly 50%.
  • For the motor vehicle crashes that did occur in Texas in 2020, about 50% more ended in death, when compared to previous years.
  • The fatality rate for single-vehicle accidents in Texas in 2020 rose by about 14%, when compared to previous years.
  • The fatality rate for multi-vehicle accidents in Texas in 2020 rose by about 59%, when compared to previous years.

Commenting on the findings, Wunderlich stated, “there is evidence that the relationship is exponential, meaning that decreases in volume [of vehicles on the roads] can have a greater than proportional effect on crashes.”

Increase in Texas Traffic Deaths Echoes National Trend

The surge in fatal car accidents, despite fewer vehicles on the roads, has not been unique to Texas. In fact, this phenomenon has been seen in national traffic data as well.

According to the latest reports from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), traffic deaths in the U.S. have risen nearly 18% in the first part of 2020, when compared to previous years—and when analyzing crash data with respect to average vehicle miles traveled (VMT).

Effectively, that means that more people are dying in deadly wrecks on roads in Texas and across the U.S., despite the fact that fewer people are driving on them.

What Has Caused the Surge in Texas Traffic Deaths in 2020?

Authorities at the NHTSA say it’s still “too soon to speculate on the contributing factors or potential implications of any changes in deaths on our roadways.” While they expect to publish further analysis in 2021, others have shared theories about why fatal car accidents have increased while vehicles and motorists on the roads have decreased.

Specifically, both TTI researchers and authorities at the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) have pointed to the following as being key issues tied to this alarming trend:

  • Speeding: The average speeds on Houston highways jumped up at least 20 miles per hour (mph) in April 2020, according to TTI. With speed directly contributing to crash severity, it stands to reason that more speeding would contribute to more traffic deaths.
  • Impaired driving: This includes distracted driving and driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. As with speeding, motorists seem to be taking more risks with sobriety and focus, as impaired driving has also been a major contributing factor to 2020 traffic deaths in Texas and the U.S.

Why Are Drivers More Careless When the Roads Are Clearer?

Experts have speculated that drivers’ tendency to be more reckless on clearer roads may be due to:

  • A false sense of safety: With less traffic and more open roads, some experts say motorists may feel like they have the roads all to themselves. That can embolden them to speed, multitask behind the wheel, and otherwise drive carelessly.
  • Heightened emotions: Anxiety, anger, and other intense emotions may be causing some motorists to flout traffic laws, as a way to let some steam off or vent. Some experts say this is often a factor with speeding, particularly when motorists are feeling frustrated or angry.
  • Of course, there may be several other reasons why more motorists are choosing to misbehave more and more behind the wheel, when compared to past years. No matter why it’s happening, however, being aware of this new trend can be essential to remaining vigilant and prioritizing safety while you’re driving in Texas or anywhere in the U.S.

Elaborating on what motorists can do to stay safe on the roads, Wunderlich explained:

It’s an issue of how we behave when we’re behind the wheel. Basically, we reduce our risk when we slow down, pay attention, and stay sober. Until we get self-driving cars, the best way to reduce risk is the old-fashioned way: by making safer choices.

NHTSA Deputy Administrator James Owens backed up Wunderlich’s viewpoint, saying:

Now, more than ever, we should be watching ourselves for safe driving practices and encouraging others to do the same.  It’s irresponsible and illegal to drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol, taking risks not only with one’s own life, but with the lives of others.