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Crashes have killed nearly as many people so far this year as they did in 2020 or 2019

Updated: Jun. 7, 2021 at 5:30 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Despite more people working from home, a record number of people died in traffic crashes across the country in 2020.

That’s the finding of preliminary data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The agency found that there is a 7% increase in the car crash fatality rate since 2007. Local researchers says the problem is getting even worse in this year in Wisconsin.

Andrea Bill is a researcher at the Traffic Operations and Safety Lab at UW-Madison. She is part of a team that analyzes the type of crashes that occur and looks at what can be done to prevent them, either from a behavioral standpoint or an engineering standpoint.

She’s also studying how the pandemic has impacted the data.

In 2020, the average number of miles driven dropped 13%, but even with fewer cars on the road, preliminary data shows more people died in crashes.

“What would normally slow people down on the roadways like congestion during morning and afternoon commutes or holiday traffic...we didn’t have that,” said Bill.

Bill says less traffic, resulted in fewer drivers following the rules of the road. “We were seeing the speeds increase during that time. Speed plays a huge factor into the severity of crashes,” said Bill.

Location also plays a role. Transportation researchers found that crashes increased particularly in rural areas, urban interstates, and at night.

Bill says the data also shows an increase in impaired and distractive driving too.

“We’re seeing an increase in fatalities here in Wisconsin as well,” said Bill.

NBC15 pulled preliminary data from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

​*2021 and 2020 data are preliminary​​​​
Data source: WisDOT Crash Records database​
​*2021 and 2020 data are preliminary​​​​ Data source: WisDOT Crash Records database​(WMTV/TAJMA HALL)

While the number of fatalities slightly dropped in 2020 from 183 to 170. This years numbers so far are on trend to surpass that, with 166 fatalities in just the first 5 months of 2021.

“We need to slow down and pay attention and make sure we’re keeping all our focus on what we’re doing when we’re driving,” said Bill.

The 25 to 34 age group showed an 18% increase in car crash related deaths. Meanwhile highway fatalities in people over 65 were down 9%, as seniors stayed home during the pandemic. The rate of accidents involving large trucks appears to have declined.

Experts say when it comes to traffic deaths, teen drivers are the most vulnerable .

New reports from AAA show the summer months are the most dangerous for teen drivers. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, teens are three times more likely than adults to be involved in a deadly crash.

“The fact that they don’t have the experience to handle all the different situations that come up on the road is the reason they are most at risk of all drivers,” said AAA Director of Public Affairs for Wisconsin.

Not wearing a seatbelt, speeding, and distraction are the top factors in deadly crashes involving teens.

With road travel increasing as cities reopen, parents are encouraged to talk to their kids about safe driving.

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