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Traffic fatalities spike during pandemic, despite less busy roads

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A new study released by AAAshows some surprising information about traffic during the pandemic. While the amount of vehicles on the road went down, the number of traffic fatalities went up.

Data from the U.S. Department of Transportation shows in 2020, the number of people killed in traffic accidents spiked 7.2 percent from the year before. That year, 38,680 people died in vehicle crashes, the largest number reported since 2007.

AAA Manager of Driver Training Michael Formanowicz said the results of the study are counterintuitive.

"What they're finding out is the people that are driving are showing more aggressive or risky tendencies when they drive,” said Formanowicz.

The data also showed an increase in crashes involving impairment, speeding, running red lights, and lack of seatbelt use.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found the people who tended to spend more time on the roads during the pandemic were young males, a statistically riskier group.

However, Formanowicz said changing traffic patterns may have also played a role.

"If you're on a congested highway, in a metropolitan area, and you're used to driving 25, 30 miles per hour because traffic is so congested, and that's all you can go, well now there's less traffic, so guess what? I can go 55, I can go 60, I can go 65,” he said.

Formanowicz said while we’re seeing these spikes, the best way to avoid a crash is to obey the rules of the road and give yourself a healthy buffer zone between your car and other vehicles. Also, make sure you’re paying attention.

“If people are driving faster, things are going to happen faster,” he said. “So, that two second look at your phone to see who’s calling or to check a text message could be the difference between you avoiding a collision and unfortunately being involved in one.”

Jessica Cain is a freelance reporter for WRVO, covering issues around central New York. Most recently, Jessica was a package producer at Fox News in New York City, where she worked on major news events, including the 2016 presidential conventions and election. Prior to that, she worked as a reporter and anchor for multiple media outlets in central and northern New York. A Camillus native, Jessica enjoys exploring the outdoors with her daughters, going to the theater, playing the piano, and reading.