Traffic fatalities rose dramatically last year as we worked to emerge from COVID-19. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has released early estimates showing 42,915 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2021, up 10.5 percent from 2020. In Massachusetts, early estimates show a 20 percent increase.
There were more vehicles on the road last year. The NHTSA reported an 11 percent increase in vehicle miles traveled in 2021 compared to 2020. There was only a slight decline in the fatality rate per mile traveled.
But the projection shows the highest number of traffic fatalities since 2005 – and the largest annual increase in traffic deaths since 1975, when the federal traffic data system began. Across the board, drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists all faced more treacherous conditions than before the pandemic, even as many traveled less.
Rise in Pedestrian and Bicycle Fatalities
Many of us have been walking more since the pandemic began. It’s nice to just step outside and start getting some exercise. However, the walk can be very dangerous. Traffic may look lighter at times. Open roads seem to encourage drivers to speed and traffic patterns are still highly irregular.
Speed-Related Crashes Up 5 Percent
The NHTSA reports a 5 percent rise in traffic fatalities caused by speed-related crashes in 2021. This follows a dangerous 17 percent jump from 2019 to 2020. Overall, speeding is responsible for more fatal crashes now than before the pandemic.
There were also more fatalities in multi-vehicle crashes last year, as vehicles traveled more miles. These fatalities climbed 16 percent in 2021. There was a rise from March to August 2021, then November to December. April 2021 saw the greatest increase in fatalities in multi-vehicle crashes.
Alcohol-Related Crashes Rise
One of the most troubling trends of the pandemic was the rise in drunk driving and injuries. In 2020, there was a 16 percent rise in traffic fatalities stemming from police-reported, alcohol-involvement crashes. This came as workers and students stayed home. In 2021, this trend continued, with an estimated 5 percent increase in these crashes.
More Traffic Deaths Among Seniors
There were fewer traffic fatalities among older Americans in 2020 as more people stayed home or suffered from COVID-19. But last year, as senior citizens (those 65 and older) got back out, there was a 14 percent increase among traffic fatalities.
13 Percent Increase in Traffic Fatalities Involving at Least One Large Truck
In 2021, there was a 13 percent increase in fatalities in crashes involving at least one large truck (one with a gross vehicle weight rating of more than 10,000 lbs). The NHTSA counts both commercial and non-commercial vehicles.
Trucking activity has drastically changed since the start of the pandemic. More of us are ordering groceries, clothing and household supplies from the convenience of our homes and we may see large trucks and delivery vans several times a day.
The NHTSA reports traffic fatalities in crashes involving at least one large truck increased from April to July 2021 and then again from November to December 2021.
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As the New Year begins, Massachusetts closes the door on a very dangerous year for pedestrians.
There was disappointing news on the state’s roads, as traffic fatalities rose 19 percent over 2020, according to MassDOT preliminary data (January 4, 2022). But those who walked faced the most risks. Pedestrian fatalities increased a stunning 38 percent, coming in near pre-pandemic levels.
Statewide, 76 pedestrians were killed in motor vehicle accidents last year, compared to 2019, when there were 78 deaths. The state recorded 55 pedestrian deaths in 2020, when traffic volumes fell early on during the Massachusetts “stay-at-home” and essential worker orders.
Most concerning is when a driver injured a pedestrian last year, the encounter was more often fatal. According to the January 4th data, in Massachusetts, you had a greater chance of surviving a pedestrian accident in 2019 than you did last year.
The state recorded about 2,197 pedestrian accidents in 2019. About 3.5 percent of these resulted in fatal injuries. Meanwhile, in 2021, there were 1,520 reports of motor vehicle accidents involving pedestrians. Five percent of these crashes claimed a pedestrian’s life.
These are preliminary numbers from the MassDOT. It is important to remember these could rise in future days and weeks.
Drivers Have a Duty to Decrease Speed At Times for Safety
Drivers may operate recklessly or make unsafe choices, such as speeding or running a red light, during any season. Come winter, when the snow and ice arrive, these decisions can be deadly for pedestrians. Drivers may have less time to make corrections.
In Massachusetts, drivers have a duty to use reasonable care and this includes traveling at a safe speed.
Drivers have a duty to observe the posted speed limit as the maximum that is “reasonable and proper.” But they must use good judgment and lower their speed for safety, “when a special hazard exists with respect to pedestrians or other traffic, or by reason of weather or highway conditions.” M.G.L. c. 90, § 17.
This describes many winter driving situations.
Still, as a pedestrian, you should expect drivers may speed and approach you too closely in the winter. While you cannot control this, you can try to stay visible. When drivers see you, they may recognize their responsibility to slow down as appropriate for the road conditions.
Safety Tips for Pedestrians During the Winter Months
Use Sidewalks. Sidewalks are an essential safety tool in the winter. Always use sidewalks and stay inside the snowbank when waiting for crosswalk signals.
Consider Yourself a Pedestrian. Most of us are a pedestrian at some point in the day. You may consider yourself a pedestrian if you walk to work or take your children to school. Or if you walk for exercise. But you are also a pedestrian when you walk through the grocery store parking lot, drop off a package at the post office or wait for a bus or rideshare. Recognize this and take steps to protect yourself just as you would if you were walking to work or around your neighborhood.
One challenge is pedestrians do not have the same tools as drivers, such as safety mirrors. You may not be able to see drivers up high in trucks or work vehicles. Because of this, it is important to use crosswalks and try to make eye contact with drivers before crossing streets, intersections and parking lots. Again, when drivers see you, they are more likely to slow down or look for you before they turn and this is even more critical when snow is taking up room on the roads.
Stand Out in Bright Colors. Now is a good time to add a few bright colors to your wardrobe. Wear neon or reflective clothing to help drivers see you. This is a simple step with a big return because it encourages drivers to maintain a safe distance.
Look for Crosswalks with Traffic Signals and Safety Signs. Look for crosswalks with traffic signals, which are designed to guide drivers and pedestrians at all hours, through all types of weather. Keep in mind you may not be able to see traffic signs or paint markings after winter snowstorms.
Stay Away from Plow Trucks! Stay away from plow trucks on roads or parking lots. Grocery store parking lots are full of hazards in the winter because they see so much traffic and may need frequent plowing. You may find snowplow drivers are continuously at work. It is never safe to approach a snowplow, even parked vehicles. The driver could make a sudden decision to back up.
Free Legal Consultation – Boston Personal Injury Lawyers
Founded in 1992, Breakstone, White & Gluck has been consistently recognized among the top personal injury law firms in Boston and across Massachusetts. Our lawyers specialize in representing those injured by negligent driving and we provide experienced and aggressive representation to pedestrians and families after serious crashes and crosswalk accidents.
If you have been injured, learn your legal rights. For a free legal consultation, contact Breakstone, White & Gluck of Boston at 800-379-1244 or 617-723-7676 or use our contact form.
As employees work from home and schools offer remote learning, traffic volumes remain low across Massachusetts. This may mean less stressful driving at times. Yet it can also lead to an increased risk of car accidents caused by speeding.
Across Massachusetts, traffic volumes are 20 percent lower than last year at this time, according to a MassDOT presentation this month. In some areas, traffic is even lighter. For instance, in the City of Boston, traffic is down as much as 48 percent.
North of Boston, there is an 18 percent decrease in traffic right now, according to the presentation. South of Boston, there is a 19 percent drop in MassDOT District 5, which includes Plymouth County, Bristol County and the Cape and Island. West of Boston, the decreases range from 28 percent to 18 percent.
If you commute, a MassDOT official said there is no peak traffic hour right now. This is true during both the morning and the afternoon/evening commutes. There is a consistent bump in traffic during these times, but nothing near pre-COVID 19 traffic levels.
An easier drive into Boston would be welcome news if not for COVID-19.
Boston is known for traffic gridlock. Many publications and websites have ranked the city’s driving experience among the worst in the U.S. Most recently, we earned a new honor, when WalletHub ranked Boston the 83rd worst of 100 driving cities.
According to the survey, Boston drivers log the most hours sitting in traffic congestion each year, along with drivers in New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. The rankings also noted Boston drivers are more likely to have a car accident than those in other cities.
Boston was ranked among the top 5 cities where drivers were most likely to have a traffic crash. This list also included the California cities of Oakland and Los Angeles, Washington D.C. and Baltimore, Maryland.
Right now, there are fewer cars on the road. This may sound safer.
But NECN recently reported on the dangerous trend of drivers speeding into open roads. In Iowa, the state patrol recorded a 101 percent increase in drivers speeding 100+ mph from January through August. There was also a 75 percent increase in tickets for drivers who were traveling 25 mph or more over the speed limit.
In California, the highway patrol issued more than 15,000 tickets from mid-March through August 19 for speeding over 100 mph. This was a 100 percent increase over the same period in 2019.
Then, there is Ohio. Between April and September, state troopers issued 2,200 tickets to drivers traveling more than 100 mph between April and September. This marked a 61 percent increase from the same time last year. The highest speed was a stunning 147 mph.
Speeding can cause serious and fatal injuries, even when traffic is light. In April, there were 28 deaths, compared to 27 in April 2019 – despite half the traffic.
Like other states, Massachusetts has seen an alarming number of drivers cited for speeding. In March and April alone, Massachusetts police issued 15,071 speeding citations, including 259 drivers traveling at 100 miles or more, according to a Boston Herald report.
Police cited 1,035 drivers for traveling speeds of 90 mph to 100 mph. Another 2,518 were traveling between 80 and 90 mph.
Some of the fastest drivers were traveling even faster, at unbelievable and unsafe speeds. In Stoughton, a driver was caught traveling 140 mph in a 65 mph zone. Two other drivers reached 130 mph speeds in Ludlow and North Attleboro. On Cape Cod, a driver was caught traveling 125 mph.
Speeding is highly dangerous. MGL c.90, § 17 states, “No person operating a motor vehicle on any way shall run it at a rate of speed greater than is reasonable and proper, having regard to traffic and the use of the way and the safety of the public.”
Drivers have a duty to use reasonable care in Massachusetts. This means traveling the speed limit or slower when necessary for safety, even when there is no sign posted. In Massachusetts, cities and towns have a default speed limit of 30 mph in thickly settled or business districts. In 2016, the state passed the Municipal Modernization Act allowing communities to lower default speed limits to 25 mph. Many communities have done so and enjoy the improvements. Near schools and work zones, the speed limit is 20 mph.
Free Legal Consultation – Boston Car Crash Attorneys
If you have been injured, it is in your best interest to consult an experienced car accident lawyer. Since 1992, Breakstone, White & Gluck has represented those injured by negligent driving across Massachusetts, including in Boston, Cambridge, Quincy and the South Shore, the North Shore, Plymouth, Brockton and Cape Cod.
For a free legal consultation, contact our attorneys at 800-379-1244 or 617-723-7676 or use our contact form.
First, the City of Boston dropped speed limits to 25 mph, with a goal of reducing traffic fatalities and pedestrian injuries. Now, Mayor Marty Walsh and the Boston City Council have their eyes on 20 mph on neighborhood streets. The next step is obtaining state approval.
The City of Boston first sought to lower speed limits as part of its VisionZero campaign a few years ago. That proposal also required approval from the state Legislature and Gov. Baker’s signature.
Gov. Baker signed the Municipal Modernization Bill into law in 2016, including language that allowed cities and towns to lower the default speed limit from 30 to 25 mph. Cities and towns can now lower speed limits on all (or select) municipal roads in thickly settled areas or business districts. Many communities have done so, including Boston, Cambridge, Quincy, Arlington and Dedham. Now, unless traffic signs are posted otherwise, it’s 25 mph in these communities.
While the speed limit in these communities has dropped, the fines remain the same. In Massachusetts, speeding carries a $105 fine for speeding. If you exceed the speed limit by 10 mph, there is an extra $10 fine per each mile per hour.
Boston was the first to approve lower speeds, with this taking effect in January 2017. But the City of Boston’s goal was always 20 mph and remains so for city neighborhoods. In fact, the Boston City Council approved a 20 mph speed limit back in 2016.
As the City of Boston pursues a 20 mph speed limit for neighborhoods, there is early data showing that the 30 to 25 mph drop has changed traffic patterns for the better. According to an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study, after the lower speed limit took effect, Boston saw a 29 percent reduction in traffic traveling over 35 mph.
Mayor Walsh also announced other transportation initiatives last week, including the creation of special drop-off and pick-up sites for Uber, Lyft and other ridesharing vehicles. Data from the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities confirms that Boston is the truly the hub of ride-hail services. During 2017, nearly 35 million rideshare trips began in the city. Boston saw more than 6 times as many rideshare starts as Cambridge, which has the second largest presences in Massachusetts.
Walsh’s other proposal is to give every student in the Boston public school system a MBTA pass. The price tag hasn’t been negotiated yet with the MBTA. Currently, the city receives a subsidy from the MBTA and pays $5.6 million for MBTA passes for students in Grade 7 and 8 who live more than a mile and a half from their schools.
Data That Supports 20 MPH
- According to the VisionZero Network, 9 out of 10 pedestrians who are hit by a vehicle traveling 20 mph survive. Increase the speed to 30 mph and the survival rate drops to 50 percent. At 40 mph, just 10 percent of pedestrians survive.
- Speed is a factor in nearly one-third of all traffic deaths in the U.S. (Source: VisionZero Network).
- Speeding crashes claimed the lives of 59,374 people on U.S. roads from 2010 to 2015 (Source: VisionZero Network).
- Cars speeding through red lights are a leading cause of urban car crashes, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Some states and local communities permit use of red light and speeding cameras to improve enforcement. But many do not, including Massachusetts and our neighboring New England states. Rhode Island is the one exception, allowing red light cameras by state law and city ordinance. State law permits use of speeding cameras in school zones on weekdays.
Walsh to propose 20 mph limit in neighborhoods and new Uber, Lyft pickup sites, Boston Globe, March 7, 2019
Slow Down! Boston, Cambridge and Other Cities Have Dropped Speeds to 25 MPH, Massachusetts Injury Lawyer Blog, May 23, 2017