California’s traffic deaths rise during the pandemic

On Behalf of Griswold LaSalle Cobb Dowd & Gin LLP

The roads were emptier during the pandemic last year, but motorists engaged in riskier conduct. Pedestrian and traffic deaths rose in California and across the country in 2020. An increase in speeding and impaired driving accidents were a factor in the rise of these personal injury accidents.

Fatalities rise

There were 3,723 traffic deaths in California in 2020 which was five percent increase from 2019, according to the National Safety Council. But the Federal Highway Administration found that traffic on its roads dropped 14.4 percent in Dec. 2020 compared to one year earlier.

The Governors Highway Safety Administration reported that there were 485 pedestrian fatalities in the state during the first six months of 2020. This was also a five percent rise from the same period in 2019.

California, unfortunately, ranked prominently in the rankings of risky metropolitan areas for pedestrians. Bakersfield was cited as the second most dangerous metropolitan area in the United States, according to the Pedestrian Danger Index. The Stockton-Lodi area was 15th, Fresno was 21st and the Sacramento-Roseville-Arden-Arcade area was ranked 36th.

Disturbing national trend

Traffic fatalities across the country were also eight percent higher in 2020 from one year earlier even though miles travelled dropped by 13 percent, according to the National Safety Council’s preliminary estimates. There were 40,060 accident deaths last year.

There were over 4.7 million nonfatal injuries from traffic accidents in the United States in 2020 requiring medical attention. Property damage was $474.4 million.

Reckless motorists

Anecdotal evidence showed that less crowded roads invited dangerous driving behavior, according to the GHSA. Motorists took advantage of less traffic to drive faster and there was more impaired driving.

Risks to minorities

The NSC cited traffic data showing that more needs to be done to protect minorities. Hispanics constituted 18 percent of the population but constituted 20 percent of pedestrian deaths from 2015 to 2019. African Americans comprised 13 percent of the population but accounted for 20 percent of traffic fatalities.

Improvements called for

Anticipating more federal spending on transportation, safety proponents have sought improvements in other areas besides repairs and road expansion.  A spokesperson for the California Office of Traffic Safety said that there should be more efforts to deal with speeding. Other advocates argue that design standards should place a priority on safety over speed.

Other recommended improvements include speed and red-light cameras and pedestrian islands on heavily travelled roads. Multilane roads with raised medians are also sought because these roads have substantially lower pedestrian crash rates.

Potential innovations also include making pavement markings six inches, instead of the current four inches, so that vehicle detection devices can read them. Contrasting the markings on concrete bridges with black may also improve visibility.

Improvement to vehicles could lower accident risks. These include driver assistance systems like automatic emergency braking where the vehicle automatically brakes when there is someone in its path. Greater use of alcohol detection devices is also recommended.

Victims of speeding, impaired or negligent motorists can suffer serious injuries and face high costs for medical care, rehabilitation, and other expenses. Attorneys can help victims and their families seek compensation and pursue their rights in negotiations and lawsuits.


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