National Safety Council reports motor vehicle fatality rates increase by 36.6%, despite quarantines

By Eddie Shelton, VRSA Senior Safety Specialist

With the spread of COVID-19, Americans began to quarantine, work remotely, and take other actions to prevent spreading this virus. As a natural consequence, this led to fewer drivers, fewer vehicles, and fewer miles driven on U.S. roadways.

Experts and officials expected that this would lead to fewer accidents and fewer roadway deaths. Many insurance carriers and risk sharing organizations, including VRSA, issued premium credits in anticipation of fewer accidents.

However, a report recently released by the National Safety Council compared the number of cars on the roads versus the number of accidents in April 2020, contrasting it with statistics from April 2019.  The logical conclusion would have been that with fewer cars, drivers, and mileage, accidents should have deceased. They did not.

With a 40 percent reduction in traffic, the per-capita vehicle fatality rate increased by 36.6 percent from 2019.

The biggest contributing factor to vehicle accidents is, and has been for some time, speed.

As fewer cars were on the road, drivers felt comfortable taking on the added risk of increasing their speed. In addition to this, with fewer cars on the road, drivers also felt more comfortable taking on additional risks of added distractions. As with any snowball effect, hazards, risks, and inattentiveness lead to increased risks.



Why are we seeing this jump in accidents and fatalities, when our roads should be safer?

It’s a fair question, and I think it can be summed up in one word: “culture.”

We live in a culture that wants work done, and we want it done now. When we order a delivery, we want it now. When we get in line at Chick-fil-A, we want our food now. We have developed a culture of rush, rush, rush, go, go, go!

We have put value in taking unnecessary risks. So long as saving those extra few seconds is of first importance over safety, I fear these numbers will continue to grow year over year.

Take time to discuss with employees their intrinsic value, not only to your organization, but to their families.

An organization that values a culture of safety over a culture of risks for time-benefit, will reap savings not only in dollars and assets but with employee lives.

The habits that your employees have outside of work are often the same habits they bring into the workplace.  Bad habits are still bad habits, whether the employee is on the clock or not.  Make driver safety part of your culture.

In order to better-navigate our cities, towns, and counties, ensure employees are trained and understand the importance of:

  • Buckle up. This is the number one factor to help get your employees home to their families.
  • Obey speed limits. This is the number one contributing factor for accidents.
  • Practice defensive driving. This includes avoiding fatigued driving.
  • Pre-plan your routes, especially if you will be operating large and/or heavy machinery.
  • Utilize a spotter or conduct a full walk-around prior to operating a vehicle in reverse.

For additional advice, guidance, and recommendations, VRSA is happy to offer a host of resources including the VRSA Online University, webinars, trainings, as well as your assigned safety consultant who is able to provide assistance with accident reviews and accident review committees.  As always, thank you for doing your part to keep our roadways safer!