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2020 was a challenging year for Californians – and the country as a whole. The COVID-19 pandemic has killed more than 400,000 Americans, sickened millions more, and tanked the economy. Despite these hardships, there have been some good things to come out of 2020, including a drastic reduction in the number of car accidents in the Bay Area.

From 2019 to 2020, the total number of motor vehicle accidents in Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Santa Clara, San Francisco and San Mateo counties dropped by 39.3%. Perhaps more importantly, the number of crashes that involved fatal or serious injuries decreased by 23.4%.

Using data from UC Berkeley’s Transportation Injury Mapping System (TIMS), we will break down the 2020 accident statistics for the Bay Area. By examining these numbers, we may be able to get a better sense of when car accidents are more likely to happen – and how we may be able to decrease the number of crashes in our region.

2020 Sees a Sharp Decline in Overall Crashes in the Bay Area

Between February 3, 2020 and December 28, 2020, there were 6,185 motor vehicle accidents in the six counties that make up the Bay Area. Of those collisions, 667 involved fatal or serious injuries. By comparison, for the same time period between 2019 and 2020, there were 9,881 crashes, including 798 accidents that caused fatal or serious injuries.

This represents a decrease of nearly 40% in motor vehicle accidents from 2019 to 2020. While the drop for fatal and serious injury crashes was lower, at 23.4%, it still represents a significant reduction.
This decline in the number of accidents can be at least partially attributed to Californians simply spending less time on the road due to COVID-19 shelter in place orders. In 2019, Californians drove nearly 25 million miles (24,984,090 miles). In 2020, that number dropped by 20.5% to just under 20 million miles (19,853,020).

It isn’t surprising that when fewer vehicles are on our streets, highways, and freeways, there are fewer car accidents. If we are spending more time at home – and less time in our cars – the chance of being in a crash is reduced. When our roads are less congested, there is a lower risk of being in some of the most common types of car accidents, such as rear-end collisions, sideswipes, t-bone accidents and even parking lot collisions.

Yet this decrease in vehicles on the road did not remain constant throughout 2020. After a sharp decrease in vehicle miles traveled at the start of the pandemic (March – April 2020), there were more cars on the road from late May 2020 through the end of the year as restrictions on work and travel were relaxed. As the number of vehicles on the road increased, the number of accidents often did as well.

When Did Accident Rates Rise – or Fall – in 2020?

Examining the TIMS data reveals that while the rate of traffic accidents in the Bay Area was lower in 2020 than in 2019, that wasn’t true across the board. While the overall rate of motor vehicle collisions declined each week in 2020, accidents involving fatal or serious injuries actually increased in some weeks.

For example, during the week of March 30, 2020, there was a 25% increase in fatal and serious injury crashes since 2019. This statistic is notable given that the rate of accidents had decreased in March after seven Bay Area counties issued shelter-in-place orders on March 16. Just days later, Governor Newsom issued a shelter-in-place order for the entire state of California.

Throughout the initial lockdown, serious and fatal injury crashes continued to decline. Yet in early June, as California began to lift COVID-19 restrictions, the accident rate increased again. The week of June 1 saw a 20% increase in these accidents. Two months later, the accident rate jumped by 25% during the week of July 20. 

During the summer months, an analysis of vehicle miles traveled shows that more people were driving than earlier in the lockdown. Compared to March, April and May – when traffic was down by as much as 40% – more people were on the road in the Bay Area over the summer. While there was still a reduction in vehicle miles traveled compared to 2019, the decrease was much smaller, at 12 to 18%. 

During the week of September 21, 2020, the number of fatal and serious injury crashes again rose – this time by 100%. This may be due in part to the wildfires that raged across the Bay Area in September 2020, leading to evacuation orders throughout the region.

The week of November 2, 2020 saw a huge jump in serious accidents, rising 77.8% over the same time period in 2019. While it isn’t entirely clear what caused this increase, it may be linked to more people heading out to vote in the historic November 4 elections.

The holiday season also brought an increase in dangerous car accidents, likely due to holiday travel. On the week leading up to Christmas – December 21, 2020 – there was a 20% increase in collisions that cause fatal or serious injuries.

Hurt in a Car Accident? We’re Here to Help.

Although most of us wouldn’t want to repeat 2020, there were some positive things to come out of it, like less traffic and fewer traffic accidents due to shutdown orders. This may point to a future where we can lower the total crash rate in the Bay Area by increasing the use of public transportation or working from home more. 

When accidents do happen, Kuvara Law is here for you. With offices throughout the Bay Area, our team of skilled personal injury lawyers is dedicated to helping our clients get the compensation that they deserve. To learn more or to schedule a free initial consultation with a San Rafael car accident lawyer, call us at 415-279-7070 or fill out our online contact form.

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