Illinois traffic deaths up in 2020 despite fewer people on the road

(The Center Square) – Illinois traffic deaths rose in 2020 despite reports of fewer people on roads across the state.

Preliminary reports indicate 1,166 people died in crashes around the state last year, an increase of 16-percent from 2019. The overall fatality number hasn’t been that high since back in 2007.

That’s despite data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that indicates miles traveled by vehicles in the U.S. dropped by more than 14 percent in the first nine months of 2020.

Cathy Chase, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, says the organization has seen a number of contributing factors as they look at the data.

“Speeding, especially high speeds, drug and alcohol use when getting behind the wheel, riskier driving such as distracted driving,” Chase said. “People also aren’t buckling up like they should be.”

According to its website, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety is an alliance of consumer, medical, public health, law enforcement, and safety groups and insurance companies and agents working together to make America’s roads safer.

Chase says younger drivers have accounted for a disproportionate number of the increased deaths.

“More specifically, it is younger male drivers who have disproportionately been a part of the overall fatalities between April and June,” Chase said. “People are driving distracted. They’re using their devices for not just texting and phone calls anymore, but watching videos and doing apps and playing games. The smarter the phone has gotten, the less smart drivers have gotten.”

New safety measures in passenger cars haven’t been enough to hold down the numbers.

Chase says it doesn’t help that features like blind-spot warnings, automatic braking, and lane assist aren’t in widespread use as of yet.

“These advances are trickling into the marketplace,” Chase said. “If there were a requirement [from the U.S. Department of Transportation] that they be standard equipment in new vehicles, then we would see much more of them being a part of the marketplace more quickly.”

She said that if the requirements were to be adopted across the industry, the cost would not be as steep as perhaps expected.

“We know that when technology is required, the cost goes down,” Chase said. “It’s just the scale of economy. Right now, auto manufacturers can upcharge. You can’t just buy one safety system because they typically come in in a luxury package to the tune of $2,000 or $3,000. If there are requirements, then we know that the price will come down.”

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