Arkansas, following national trend, sees traffic deaths begin to dip after pandemic spike

The number of motorists killed in accidents on Arkansas’ roads during the second three months of this year fell 20% compared to tolls in the same quarter in 2021, state data shows, marking a significant departure from means a two-year increase in fatal accidents. although authorities are still concerned after an expected surge in August claimed more lives than this month in the last decade.

From April through June, 155 people died in wrecks on Arkansas roads, Arkansas State Police statistics show, up from 196 in the same period last year, itself an increase from the 181 deaths in the second three months of 2020.

The state’s trend in falling deaths is consistent with the national average and is actually more dramatic than it, the data shows.

The 5% drop in fatalities nationwide from April to June 2021 compared to the same quarter this year was the first drop in road fatalities in America since the summer of 2020, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates show.

Last year was the deadliest for American motorists in 16 years, with nearly 43,000 people dying in wreckage, according to federal highway safety data. This represented a 10.5% increase in deaths compared to 2020 and was the highest increase in annual deaths since the agency began collecting death data in 1975.

Explanations for the increase in deaths over the past two years have varied, but it is widely believed that in the early years of the Covid-19 pandemic, drivers became accustomed to less crowded roads, allowing them to drive faster and less to drive carefully. As the effects of the virus wore off, drivers struggled to adjust to traffic returning. State and national authorities have relied on this statement.

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For many months, the total number of accidents has been falling even as the number of deaths has risen nationwide, suggesting reckless driving could be declining now as offices reopen and more cars return to the streets, Michael Brooks, executive director of the nonprofit center for Auto Safety, the Associated Press said.

“It could be that we’re seeing an easing of some of the issues that have been caused by the pandemic — speeding, open roads, risky driving issues,” Brooks said. “Traffic is returning to normal, the streets aren’t as empty as they used to be.”

“The fact is the mortality rate is still very, very high,” Brooks said. “Its a lot to do.”

In January, the U.S. Department of Transportation unveiled its National Roadway Safety Strategy, which called on federal and state officials to encourage safe driving and discourage speeding while investing in safer road and vehicle designs and in medical care for Americans caught at wrecks were injured.

“The status quo is unacceptable and avoidable,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg wrote in a letter unveiling the plan. “We know it’s preventable because brave cities in the United States and countries abroad have achieved tremendous reductions in road deaths. We cannot accept such terrible losses here.”

However, traffic fatalities in Arkansas have been declining since the beginning of this year, with a 6% decrease in the first quarter compared to the first quarter of 2021. Collectively, traffic fatalities are down 15% in the first half of 2022 compared to the first six months of last year .

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Despite the positive prospects, the authorities were reluctant to declare the trend towards increasing traffic deaths to be over.

Last month, 81 people died in crashes on Arkansas roads, marking the deadliest August for motorists in 10 years, Arkansas State Police spokesman Bill Sadler said.

For comparison, 57 people died in accidents in August 2021 and 58 in August 2020, the data showed.

And July, when 51 deaths were reported, was up from July 2021’s figure of 46, but still lower than the 72 deaths reported in July 2020, just months after the pandemic began. July 2020 was also the same month that a law passed by the Arkansas Legislature in 2019 increased speed limits to 75 mph on rural interstates and 65 mph on urban freeways.

Authorities always anticipate a spike in deaths as a result of increased summer travel, but any explanation as to why August was so deadly is conjecture at this point, Sadler said.

The figures reported for July and August are preliminary and subject to change as reports of fatalities are poured into state agencies from local law enforcement, Sadler said.

Since September wasn’t over yet, Sadler didn’t want to speculate on what the total death toll would be in the third quarter.

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“I don’t want to paint a rosy picture if that may not turn out to be the case, but let’s knock on wood,” Sadler said.

However, a tally of preliminary death reports released on the Department of Public Safety’s website on September 21 showed 29 deaths, ensuring the drop in deaths from the third quarter of 2021 to that period this year would be less dramatic than in the second-quarter dipping.

These reports are an inaccurate measure and are subject to change, but they do provide insight into the month’s road fatalities.

The majority of these fatal wrecks, Sadler said, are caused by speeding, tailgating another vehicle, or a combination of both.

“If you put these two together, follow close and fast, it’s a deadly combination,” Sadler said.

State police are still particularly concerned about the increased number of fatal auto accidents, mainly due to high speeds that happen on dual-lane highways in rural areas, Sadler said. Those roads have proven to be just as dangerous or more dangerous since 2020 than major freeways, where accidents involving multiple vehicles and multiple fatalities are more common, he said.

Soldiers across the state have made a concerted effort to increase patrols, Sadler said, to encourage safer driving and prevent reckless driving and speeding that can lead to wrecks.

“Reducing the death toll has been a high priority and the only way to do that is to step up patrols,” Sadler said.

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