Coronavirus Pandemic Does Little to Reduce 2020 Texas Traffic Fatalities
While nothing seemed the same in 2020, one aspect of life where surprisingly little changed was the number of traffic fatalities in Texas. The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDoT) does not publish its final statistics until later in the year, but preliminary data exists, and it is not as good as many would like it to be.
3,586 people died on Texas roadways in 2020, a 1.8% decline from 2019. Included in that number are 942 deaths from crashes involving alcohol. Alcohol-related deaths accounted for slightly less than 1/4th of all 2020 Texas roadway fatalities. Most disturbingly, alcohol-related crash fatalities rose 6.3% from the prior year.
A decline in distracted driving fatalities represented a small bright spot in the otherwise disappointing numbers. Year-over-year, distracted driving fatalities in Texas fell from 377 in 2019, to 331 in 2020.
Many might look at these numbers and see progress, but we all know that 2020 was anything but normal. In that light, many would likely expect a more dramatic decline in traffic deaths.
Putting 2020 Texas Traffic Deaths in Context
The coronavirus pandemic created a set of circumstances unique in modern history. The entire state experienced a 2-month lockdown, a fact that the few out and driving on Texas’ roads couldn’t help but notice, given the lack of traffic.
For example, while a 1.8% decline in people killed from 2020 to 2019 sounds impressive, traffic deaths generally fall from year to year. The decrease in deaths from 2019 compared to 2018 came in at 1.15%. That drop occurred without a lockdown and people driving so little that many auto insurers refunded money to their policy holders.
The most surprising aspect of the preliminary data is the jump in drunk driving fatalities. Certainly, alcohol use rises when the economic outlook takes a turn for the worse, but amidst massive unemployment, the government shuttered bars for half the year. Those two events should cancel one another out to some degree, but deaths still rose.
Previewing the Final TxDoT Traffic Fatality Statistics
For the record, I have no affiliation with TxDoT or inside knowledge about what the finalized traffic statistics will reveal, but the preliminary figures can offer insight into what to expect in the final report.
One important piece of information that the public does not currently have is the rate of deaths per hundred million miles travelled. This number provides the best measurement of highway safety, since it controls for population growth and how far motorists drive. Coupling people driving far less than usually with a modest decline in overall fatalities, we’re likely to see this number increase.
Another important number that we won’t have until TxDoT releases its final report is how many pedestrians died. Sadly, the number of pedestrian deaths rose over the last several years. It will certainly be important to see if the trend continues.
Ultimately, while it is good that Texas highway deaths decreased in 2020, given everything else going on in the world, many will be disappointed by only a modest improvement.
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