We’re getting our first look at comprehensive traffic data from 2020 and 2021, when Americans went through COVID-19 restrictions for the first time and then slowly reemerged, getting back onto the roads.
The numbers showed a troubling spike in crashes, traffic injuries and traffic deaths across the D.C. region, according to a report compiled by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, a nonprofit made up of elected officials in D.C., Maryland and Virginia.
There were nearly 79,000 crashes in the region in 2021, which was a 19% increase from 2020.
Crashes were up 18% in D.C., nearly 15% in Montgomery County, Maryland, and 14% in Fairfax County, Virginia.
Traffic injuries across the region rose by more than 20%, the report showed.
“This is a big and complex problem, and there’s no one silver bullet,” said Andrew Meese, a transportation planner with the council of governments.
The increases in traffic deaths were even more striking in some areas.
For example, Prince William County, Virginia, saw 32 traffic deaths in 2021, marking a nearly 78% increase from the 18 traffic deaths recorded in the county in 2020.
Traffic deaths rose 17% overall across the region, which was above the 10% increase that was seen nationally over the same period of time.
Fairfax County saw a 35% increase in traffic deaths, and there was a 17% increase in Prince George’s County, Maryland.
“Our regional partners want to see the numbers going down, and that increase certainly doesn’t do that,” Meese said. “It is not meeting the aspirations.”
Previously, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released a report showing that a larger share of drivers engaged in risky behaviors over the course of 2020.
Average speeds increased on urban and rural roads and seat belt use declined, according to the report.
The NHTSA report urged drivers to wear their seat belts, obey the speed limit and drive sober to reverse that “terrible trend.”