Report: Massachusetts Road Deaths Rise in 2020 as Travel Declines | News

Report: Massachusetts Road Deaths Rise in 2020 as Travel Declines |  News

More people died on Massachusetts roads in 2020 than in 2019 despite decreased motor vehicle travel in the first year of the pandemic, but the Bay State maintained the highest death rate down the country based on miles traveled amid a “national crisis,” according to recently released federal data.

In the latest batch of annual traffic crash data, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Wednesday that there were 343 motor vehicle crash fatalities in Massachusetts in 2020, up from 336 in 2019.

While the total number of deaths has increased, the number of alcohol-related deaths has dropped in the Bay State, from 112 in 2019, accounting for a third of all deaths, to 98 in 2020, or about 28.5% of the total number of road deaths.

The 2% increase in total road deaths in the Bay State occurred alongside a nearly 17% decrease in vehicle miles traveled from 2019 to 2020. Massachusetts residents have less driven, as the COVID-19 crisis has led to lengthy government-ordered business shutdowns and widespread shifts towards remote work and education.

NHTSA estimated that the number of road fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled increased in Massachusetts from 0.52 in 2019 to 0.63 in 2020.

Yet that rate remained the lowest among the 50 states and Washington, D.C.

Nationally, road deaths rose from 36,355 in 2019 to 38,824 in 2020, a jump of about 6.8%, while vehicle kilometers traveled fell nearly 11% .

NHTSA attributed the spike across the country to three main factors: speeding, alcohol impairment and an inability to buckle up.

In 2020, there were 1,938 unrestrained vehicle occupant fatalities in crashes involving both a drinking driver and speeding. That marked a 23% increase from the same figure in 2019, according to NHTSA.

“The increase in the number of deaths on our roads is a national crisis; we cannot and must not accept these deaths as inevitable,” US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said when the data was released. “People need to leave home knowing that they will arrive at their destination safely, and with the resources of the bipartisan Infrastructure Act, as well as the National Road Safety Strategy policies that we launched last month. , we’ll do everything we can to save lives on America’s roads.

The latest federal data shows how traffic fatality trends have changed between the last full year before the pandemic and the first year in the new COVID-19 reality.

Although NHTSA has yet to release a state-by-state comparison for 2021, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation said preliminary data indicates that 414 people died in motor vehicle crashes last year, marking the deadliest year since 2007.

Although the Bay State had the lowest rate of fatalities per motor vehicle mile traveled in 2020, Massachusetts has long been home to a miserably low seat belt usage rate.

In October, AAA Northeast public affairs director Mary Maguire said the state’s seatbelt usage rate dropped 4 percentage points to about 77% during the pandemic. , a level well below the national rate of almost 91%.

Governor Charlie Baker and other traffic safety advocates have pushed for an update to how seat belt laws are enforced in Massachusetts. Existing law allows for “secondary enforcement,” where police can only cite a motorist for failing to buckle up if they are already stopped for another primary offense like speeding, while many other states treat driving without restraint as a primary offense which can be punished on its own.

Lawmakers have bristled at calls to change the approach to law enforcement, reflecting concerns from some civil rights advocates that the change could exacerbate racial profiling of drivers.

Baker included primary seat belt enforcement language in a Highway Safety Bill (H 3706) he introduced. The House on Thursday passed an extension order extending to April 29 the deadline for the Transportation Committee to make a positive or negative decision on the proposal.