DETROIT — The number of people killed on the nation’s highways rose 4.6% in the first nine months of 2020, despite coronavirus lockdowns that curtailed driving early in the year.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 28,190 people died in traffic crashes from January through September of last year, up from 26,941 in the same period of 2019. Final statistics for the full year won’t come out until fall.
Authorities blamed the increase on risky driving behavior that developed when there were few vehicles on the road early in the pandemic.
“Preliminary data tells us that during the national health emergency, fewer Americans drove, but those who did took more risks and had more fatal crashes,” the safety agency said in a letter addressed to the nation’s drivers.
Traffic deaths rose 0.6% during the first-quarter of 2020, but they fell 1.1% in the second quarter as coronavirus lockdowns restricted movement. Fatalities spiked 13.1% from July through September, the agency said.
“We think the big culprit is speeding,” said Jonathan Adkins, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association. Early in the pandemic, drivers found open roads and drove faster. The behavior continued even as traffic volumes recovered, Adkins said.