Despite The Drop In Traffic In Tennessee During 2020, The State Still Saw A Record-Breaking Increase in Traffic-Related Fatalities. Tennessee Saw The Highest Number Of Traffic Fatalities In Thirteen Years.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of knoxcounty.org
Published January 29, 2021
On Monday, Clay Bright, the commissioner for the Tennessee Department of Transportation released a statement that said, “In 2020, fatalities increased nearly 7%, while traffic was down approximately 13% in Tennessee.”
In 2020, over 1,200 people in Tennessee died from traffic-related incidents, which was 75 more than in 2019. The most recent year that saw more fatalities was 1973 when the number of deaths was 1,444. 2015 was the start of a surge in traffic-related deaths, and each year after the number continued to rise.
April of 2020 was when Tennesseans were first given a stay at home order, which saw fewer people out driving. Bright said the rise in deaths was cause for concern considering the decrease in traffic.
He said, “This number is staggering, and it’s not okay. We want motorists to take notice and work with us in making a change.”
TDOT has joined the Department of Safety and Homeland Security to raise public awareness about the high traffic fatality rate. They are planning a safety campaign to be launched within a week to urge Tennesseans to be safer on the roads.
Jeff Long, Department of Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner said, “Last year, we saw 1,211 fatalities on state highways. The loss of life is never easy, especially when it could have been avoided. We encourage the public to make safe choices when traveling. Obey the speed limit, stay off your phone, don’t drive distracted or impaired, and please wear your seat belt. Those simple choices will greatly cut down the chances of you dying in a crash.”
Out of the traffic deaths last year, 396 people were unrestrained, which went up around 32% from 2019. The fatality rate went up 56% in urban areas and 44% in rural areas. Shelby County had the highest death rate, losing 244 people to traffic accidents. They made up around 20% of the overall state total.
Even in 2021, traffic fatalities continue to happen every day. On Tuesday, five people died in car crashes just in the areas that TDOT covers. Jennifer Flynn, a spokesperson for TDOT, said three of the deaths happened in Putnam during a police chase. The other two happened in a crash in Polk County.
Lt. Bill Miller, spokesperson for THP, said 2020 would have been expected to see fewer traffic fatalities, given the decrease in traffic thanks to stay at home orders.
“Unfortunately, what we experienced was a staggering number of traffic fatalities. Seeing traffic fatalities increase is extremely heartbreaking,” Miller said.
Hamilton County actually saw a decrease in traffic-related deaths. There were only 39 fatalities for the year 2020, which was down nearly 33% from 2019. In 2019, there were 58 traffic fatalities, and in 2018 there were 44.
The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency reported that boating-related deaths had also gone up in 2020, reaching a 37 year high.