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Traffic deaths rose in 2020—even when many weren't on the road
(David Hale Smith/CC)

Even with COVID-19 keeping hundreds of people at home for the bulk of 2020, traffic deaths reached the highest point they had seen since 2015 and official sources are citing speeding as a major cause.


News outlets started reporting high traffic fatality numbers in early 2020, before the pandemic even started. The year concluded with 94 traffic deaths, according to the Austin Police Department. Austin hasn't seen the death toll reach that high since it hit 102 in 2015.

Even though Austin drivers were largely off the roads—a 25-80% decrease throughout the year—the death count rose despite traffic experts expecting a decline.

What caused the deaths?

Many reports, like KUT, blame the increased death toll on increased speeding in the pandemic era. They reported that a person hit at 40 mph is five times more likely to be killed than someone hit at 24 mph and the roads are certainly less congested than they have been in years past. Austin Transportation Department reported that speeding is the primary contributor in 25% of accidents resulting in death.

Other reports show that police officers feel they are spread thin: the Austin American-Statesman reported that APD priorities have shifted, pulling officers looking for drunk drivers off of highways. During an eventful year, protests gripped the police department's gaze, especially from May to July.

What is the city planning to do?

The city rolled out plans to decrease speed limits and add speed mitigation treatments, like speed bumps, around Austin where necessary. The change is part of ATD's Vision Zero program, which hopes to reach zero traffic deaths by 2025.

The changes, which were finalized before the end of the year, reduced speed limits downtown from 30 to 25 mph and reduced residential streets under a certain width to 25 mph. A complete map of speed changes can be viewed here.


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