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New data shows increase in traffic fatalities during COVID-19 lockdowns

New data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) shows more people have died in traffic crashes so far this year compared the same period last year — even with fewer people driving for several months because of COVID-19 lockdowns.

“This new data is startling and underscores the important of being safe and cautious no matter how many cars are on the road,” said Erin McDonough, executive director of the Insurance Alliance of Michigan. “Michigan State Police have seen an increase in drivers speeding and not wearing their safety belts, which is why we’re urging Michiganders to get back to the basics and follow the rules of the road.”

Data released by the NHTSA earlier this month shows a 30% increase in fatality rates nationwide from January through June of 2020 even though there was a significant decrease in the number of cars on the road for at least three of those months. In Michigan, MDOT reports 64 more fatalities on Michigan roads from January through September compared to the same period last year.

The NHTSA’s review of the data found “the stay-at-home orders may have led the population of drivers during the height of the health crisis to have been smaller but more willing to take risks.”

This is backed up by the Michigan State Police (MSP), which reported a driver clocked at more than 140 miles per hour on one of Michigan’s freeways.

“It’s just people driving way too fast above their abilities to drive,” said MSP Lieutenant Michael Shaw on a recent episode of MDOT’s Talking Michigan Transportation Podcast. “I think a lot of people don't understand that you get in a crash at that speed the chances of you having a successful outcome probably isn't there.”

“Study after study has shown that when drivers are speeding, aren’t wearing their safety belts or are driving under the influence and get into an accident the result is a more serious crash for the driver and any other cars involved,” McDonough said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re the only car on the road or stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic: Slow down, leave plenty of room between you and the car in front of you and be courteous to other drivers.”

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