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John Townsend
Public Relations Manager, DC
O: (202) 481-6820 (ext. 4462108)
C: (202) 253-2171

WASHINGTON, D. C. (Tuesday, March 16, 2021) –– Fewer cars and less traffic on the road during the pandemic did not diminish the risk of dying in a vehicle crash across the District, Maryland and Virginia (DMV) in 2020. Traffic fatalities were up two percent across the Commonwealth in 2020, even though traffic crashes were down 21 percent, and injuries sustained in traffic crashes were down 23 percent on Virginia roadways, compared to the same time period in 2019. That’s according to preliminary data by the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). In the wake of less traffic on the road, some drivers were willing to engage in dangerous activities behind the wheel. Crash deaths involving an unrestrained person were up 17% and speed-related deaths were up 16% in 2020 compared to a year earlier, a data review by AAA reveals.

Curiously, “as traffic volume dropped, vehicle speeds increased, which has played a significant factor in the rise in the fatality rate on our nation’s roadways.” This manifested itself in the region. But less-traveled roads did not necessarily translate into a corresponding drop in the number of deaths or an improved traffic safety culture in Maryland, where motor vehicle fatalities were up 12 percent, compared to 2019, and such deaths were up 17 percent, when compared to 2018. That’s the tragic tale of the tape, reveals preliminary estimates from the National Safety Council (NSC). Another set of statistics from the state itself is sobering.

Maryland suffered 568 deaths on the road with fewer miles driven, compared to 535 such deaths in 2019, according to preliminary data from the Maryland Safety Highway Safety Office. Fatalities were up 6% and crashes increased 9%. Despite the drop in miles driven, 33 more deaths occurred on Maryland roads. The same is true in the District of Columbia, which witnessed a 33% spike in traffic deaths year-over-year, from 27 lives lost in 2019 to 36 souls in 2020. In Montgomery County, fatal crashes increased 22% from 32 in 2019 to “39 fatal crashes resulting in 41 fatalities in 2020” as the county reeled from a “notable increase in speeding, impaired, and unbuckled drivers.”

“Sadly, some drivers saw empty lanes and open roads, resulting from the pandemic lockdowns as an invitation to behave irresponsibly and dangerously behind the wheel,” said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs. “Far too many drivers engaged in speeding, aggressive and reckless driving, drinking alcohol and not buckling up, putting themselves and others in danger. In 2020, ‘sixty five percent of drivers in trauma centers after a serious crash tested positive for drugs or alcohol,’ preliminary data from NHTSA revealed. The agency cites a report showing ‘a median 22% increase in speeds in select metropolitan areas’ in the early stages of the shut-down.”

The year 2020 was like no other. When the pandemic hit, countries and states, followed by schools, offices, restaurants, movie theaters, venues and many other businesses, shutdown. In early April 2020, as lockdowns and stay-at-home orders were going into effect, Inrix estimates vehicle miles traveled dropped by 46% in that time period. For 2020, lower traffic counts meant Washington, D.C. dropped from the nation’s 5th most congested city to the 12th, reveals the Inrix 2020 Global Traffic Scorecard.

Drivers in Richmond saw an 84% drop in hours lost to traffic during 2020, while those in Baltimore saw a 68% decline, as many souls worked remotely. Traffic volume dipped 52% in Frederick; 28% in Woodbridge, and 14% in Annapolis.

Last year, law enforcement agencies across Virginia shared numerous citations on social media where drivers were ticketed for speeds in the triple digits. On May 2, 2020 alone, at least eight drivers were stopped in Virginia for going over 100 miles per hour. One driver was clocked in Fairfax County doing 132 miles per hour on Interstate 95 in Fairfax County, according to the Virginia State Police.

There were 406 speed-related deaths in Virginia in 2020 compared to 349 in 2019: a jump of 16%. Last year, speed related fatalities made up nearly half (48%) of all deaths on the road statewide, compared to 42% in 2019, notes the Virginia DMV. Not wearing a seatbelt was also a factor in 48% of all road deaths last year. Even with lower traffic counts, year-to-year, crashes involving someone not wearing a seatbelt were up 3% and fatalities were up a whopping 17%. That amounted to 62 more lives lost as a result of failing to buckle up.

Percent Change 2019 to 2020 (Source: Virginia DMV)

Crash Type:








Alcohol Involved




Speed Related




Unrestrained Person











No Change

Cell Phone Involved




Teen Involved




Mature Driver Involved




Bicycle Involved




Motorcycle Involved




A Closer Look:

Across Virginia, in particular, the number of crashes involving alcohol, cell-phones, teen-drivers, and motorcycles were also down last year compared to 2019, but fatalities in each of those categories were up. With the lower traffic counts, teen-involved driver crashes were down 21%, so were injuries. However, deaths from those crashes were up 11%. Alcohol involved crashes were down 9% last year, yet deaths were up 3%. Motorcycle crashes were down 9%, but deaths were up 3%. While cell phone involved crashes make up a small percentage of total crashes (Around 1%), fatalities were up 38% year to year. 

With the lockdowns and stay-at-home orders in place, senior drivers, who are in the highest risk category for contracting COVID-19, stayed home in large numbers. Crashes involving mature drivers in 2020 were down, as were injuries and fatalities from those crashes. Pedestrian deaths were also down on Virginia’s roads last year, but not to levels consistent with the drop in crashes and injuries in that category.

As gyms closed, many turned to cycling for fitness and many stores were sold out of bikes for weeks and months on end. Surprisingly, bike related crashes, injuries and fatalities all dropped in 2020. Bike deaths, which make up a small fraction of the fatalities on Virginia roads (1-2%), were down 38%.

The Top 5 Things you can do to be safer in a car:

Wear Your Seatbelt. Buckle up every person, every time you get in the car. Make sure young children are strapped in to appropriately sized and correctly fitted child safety seats. According to the CDC, more than half of the 22,697 people killed in passenger car crashes in 2018 were not wearing seatbelts.

Speed Kills, Slow Down. The faster a driver is going before a crash, the less likely that they’ll be able to get down to a survivable speed even if they brake before impact, finds a recent study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Higher speeds can cancel out the benefits of vehicle safety improvements like airbags and improved structural design.

Avoid Distractions/Don’t Drive Intexticated. Taking your eyes off the roads for two seconds more than doubles your risk of being involved in a crash. In 2019, 3,142 people were killed by distracted driving (NHTSA). 

As of January 1, 2021, it’s illegal to drive with your cell phone in hand in Virginia. Hands-free isn’t risk free. Letting your mind get wrapped up in a conversation, even if you’re not holding the phone, takes your focus off of the road ahead.  Drivers need to avoid or minimize all distractions in the vehicle including passengers, pets, food and drink and on-board electronics and notifications.

Drive Cautiously, Not Aggressively. Leave plenty of space between you and the car in front of you (at least 3 seconds) to give you time to react to any problems ahead. Look farther ahead than just the immediate area in front of your car and try to anticipate slowdowns by looking for taillights.

Drive Sober. Alcohol-impaired drivers are involved in approximately one-third of all motor vehicle deaths. Nearly 20% of the 1,147 children 14 and younger killed in crashes in 2017 died in alcohol-impaired-driving crashes.

         If you’re going to be drinking this St. Patrick’s Day, the WRAP SoberRide program will offer free rides home for revelers in the metro area from 4:00 p.m. Wednesday, March 17 until 2:00 a.m. Thursday, March 18.


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Washington, D.C. Mailing Address:
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AAA provides automotive, travel and insurance services to 61 million members nationwide and nearly 82,000 members in the District of Columbia.  AAA advocates for the safety and mobility of its members and has been committed to outstanding road service for more than 100 years.  The not-for-profit, fully tax-paying member organization works on behalf of motorists, who can now map a route, find local gas prices, discover discounts, book a hotel and track their roadside assistance service with the AAA Mobile app for iPhone, iPad and Android. For more information, visit

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