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If you stayed home for the year from the beginning of the Coronavirus until the country started to open back up, you may have missed the insanity that’s been taking place on the roads. Or maybe you witnessed it; mostly empty highways with occasional cars speeding by, or distracted or otherwise impaired drivers making things a little less safe and a little more chaotic. Car accidents, especially fatal ones, are up. What’s going on? Are drivers in the Pandemic worse?

The front left corners of a red car and a blue car collide.
A simulated car accident | IIHS

Yes, pandemic drivers are worse than pre-pandemic. 2020 was the most deadly year for car accidents since 2007, with more than 38,000 people losing their lives on the roads, according to the NHTSA. In the months when the world was battling the pandemic, drivers were taking the opportunity to speed and drive under the influence. This resulted in crashes that killed some of the people driving recklessly, and innocent people as well. 

On top of car-to-car accidents, cars were hitting people, as well. More bicyclists, pedestrians and motorcyclists were killed than in 2019. 

Why were people driving so recklessly during the pandemic?

As if the nation didn’t have enough to deal with, accidents involving cars contributed to an enormous loss of life in 2020. Matters weren’t helped by the fact that first responders were being sent to deal with Coronavirus-related needs, such as responding to Covid-related calls and enforcing safety rules at businesses and organizations impacted by Covid-prevention rules. This meant less police on the roads to enforce traffic violations. Even when police were on the roads, they weren’t pulling over as many people as usual, especially for smaller infractions. This was to keep both the police officers and the public safer and reduce potential Covid-exposure. 

The roads were open and speeders were taking advantage

With fewer cars on the roads, people were tempted to drive faster than the speed limit. Much faster. And without the aforementioned police presence, there wasn’t a lot stopping them. Until it was too late, unfortunately. The faster a car is traveling when it loses control or has a collision, the more serious the consequences are. 2020 saw some of the most violent deaths on the roads. 

This is partly illustrated by the rates of accidents to deaths in states like Wisconsin. Wisconsin saw fewer accidents from January to July – 26% – but more fatal accidents than 2019. There were 17% more fatal accidents, and 20% more fatalities in those accidents, according to Wired.

More people were abusing alcohol and drugs while driving 

The pandemic and the isolation surrounding it created a lot of very serious problems for people. Unfortunately, some people coped by abusing alcohol and drugs, and in even worse scenarios, then got behind the wheel of a car. Accidents due to impaired drivers were way up in 2020. Wired notes that a study by the United States Department of Transportation showed that 65% of people killed between January and April of 2020 tested positive for at least one drug.

Although lots of organizations have theories on why fatalities were up so much in 2020, there isn’t yet one definitive answer. Possibly there never will be. What is known is that speeding, drug and alcohol use, and a lack of attentiveness to traffic laws contributed to the worst year for traffic-related deaths in a long time. And those factors were likely exacerbated by the pandemic. Hopefully people can remember how important it is to follow the rules and drive safely; lives are literally at stake.


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