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4 Surprising Ways Driving Habits Changed During the Pandemic

Read time: 2 minutes

2020 brought about several changes to our daily habits. Driving habits was certainly one of them, and not in ways you might expect.

With fewer drivers on the road, you’d think there would be fewer accidents and fatalities, but the opposite happened −in staggering amounts. Driving during the pandemic turned out to be riskier and even more dangerous than before 2020.

Here’s the four surprising ways that studies found driving habits changed in 2020 and 2021:


1. Motor vehicle accident fatalities increased while injuries decreased

Despite traveling less, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that the fatalities related to accidents increased at a rate not seen since World War II. In 2020, 38,824 people were killed in traffic crashes in the U.S. This is about a 6.8% increase from 2019. The fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles driven (VMT) increased 21%, which is the largest percentage increase on record.

Meanwhile, injuries in motor vehicle accidents decreased by about 17%. This sort of contrast continues with several of the other changes they observed.

Read more: You Just Got Into a Car Accident. Now What?

A Venn diagram illustrating fatal crashes that are broken down into total speeding, alcohol-impaired and unrestrained.

2. Seat belt usage only decreased slightly

Fortunately, seat belt usage only slightly decreased from 90.7% in 2019 to 90.3% in 2020. However, being unrestrained still made accidents far more likely to be fatal because of all the other risky driving behaviors that increased significantly. Among passenger vehicle occupants killed in 2020, more than half (10,674 or 51%) were unrestrained. 


3. Significant increase in alcohol-impaired-driving fatalities

Alcohol-impaired-driving fatalities increased to 7,725 (14%) from 2019 to 2020, which accounts for 30% of 2020 overall fatalities. Alcohol-impaired-driving fatality rate per 100 million VMT increased by 29% from 0.31 in 2019 to 0.40 in 2020.

Early in the pandemic, March and April of 2020, there was a decrease in alcohol-impaired-driving fatalities. However, after those first two months, fatalities from alcohol-impaired driving continually increased, with the highest increases being in the summer months of 2020.

A red sedan with streaks of light moving fast.
4. Speeding at even higher speeds

Another huge contributor to the rise in fatalities in motor vehicle accidents in 2020 was speeding. Traffic data from the Office of Behavior Safety Research and Wagner showed average speeds increased during the last three quarters of 2020, and extreme speeds, those 20 mph (or more) higher than the posted speed limit, became more common. Analyses from their data on fatal crashes shows an 11% increase to 7,725 in speeding-related fatalities. 

Read more: Totaled Car? Here’s What You Need to Know and What Happens Next

So, while there were fewer drivers on the roads, most risky driving behaviors increased both in frequency and often severity as well. These perplexing changes form the basis of several theories as to why drivers took more risks during 2020. But, no matter the reason, we encourage you to revisit safe driving habits to keep everybody safe on the roads!

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Disclaimer: This article is not expert advice. The analysis of coverage is in general terms and is superseded in all respects by the Insuring Agreements, Endorsements, Exclusions, Terms and Conditions of the Policy. Some of the coverage mentioned in this material may not be applicable in all states or may have to be modified to conform to applicable state law. Some coverages may have been eliminated or modified since the publishing of this material. Discounts may not be available in all states. Limitations and conditions may apply. Premiums will be based on benefits chosen. Please check with your local Independent Auto-Owners Insurance Agent for details."

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