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Arizona traffic fatalities hit 12-year high despite sharp decline in crashes during 2020

The total number of crashes on all Arizona roadways fell sharply in 2020, however, fatalities rose, according to an ADOT report.

PHOENIX — COVID-19 and efforts to slow the spread of the pandemic led to fewer drivers on the road in 2020, but that did not necessarily make our roads safer. 

The total number of crashes on all Arizona roadways fell sharply in 2020, the Arizona Department of Transportation reported Thursday. However, the number of traffic fatalities rose to their highest levels in 12 years, according to a recent study

According to the study, the number of people killed in traffic crashes rose from 980 in 2019 to 1,057 in 2020, while the total number of traffic crashes came in under 100,000 for the first time since 1993.

Arizonans traveled an estimated nearly 5 billion fewer miles in 2020 – a 7% decrease from 2019, the study revealed. 

With major reductions in traffic volume during 2020 because of the pandemic, the total number of crashes on all Arizona roadways fell sharply. 

Ryan Harding, a spokesman for ADOT, said these are important numbers to track. 

"If we can see what's happening then lawmakers can make informed choices as to what laws to pass to help curtail some of that." 

Still, it begs the question: if there were fewer accidents, and fewer people on the roads, why were there more deaths?  

"The big takeaway, I mean you know, given that there were so many fewer crashes on the road but more fatalities that just helps illustrate the big change here is just driver behavior," Harding explained.  

The ADOT reports that some of the major contributors to those deadly crashes were speeding, and not wearing a seatbelt.  

As previously mentioned, the overall number of traffic crashes decreased. There were less than 100,000 accidents for the first time in nearly 30 years! 

"We want to know how are people are driving, how many fatalities are we seeing, how many crashes overall are we seeing because we have all these different law enforcement agencies, local and state, so it just helps to compile all those reports and compile them into one report that gives you a 20,000-foot overview." 

The report also shows that Arizonans traveled an estimated nearly 5 billion fewer miles in 2020 – a 7% decrease from 2019. 

RELATED: 2 people dead, state trooper injured after serious crash on Loop 202 at Kyrene Road

"The 2020 report shows a decline across all categories in terms of number of crashes and injuries as one might expect from a year where travel was reduced and remote working and learning increased. However, the majority of the categories that track fatalities showed an increase, including deaths from speed-related crashes and lane-departure crashes and deaths from those not wearing seatbelts," ADOT said. 

The report also found the categories that had fewer fatalities in 2020 than 2019 were alcohol-related and motorcycle-related crashes. 

Alcohol-related fatal crashes dropped to 181 deaths in 2020 compared to 258 in 2019. That is a 30% decrease. From 2017 to 2019 the number of deaths dropped 21%.  

Motorcycle-related fatalities went down from 170 deaths in 2019 to 160 in 2020.

"The rise in traffic fatalities last year illustrates that real change must begin in the driver’s seat as driver behavior is a major factor in traffic collisions," ADOT said. 

The 2020 Arizona Motor Vehicle Crash Facts report is available at azdot.gov/CrashFacts.

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