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KOLD Investigates: Dangerous Drive

What caused the spike in road fatalities in Arizona last year?
Published: Sep. 17, 2021 at 3:58 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - 2020 was a deadly year on Arizona roads.

One crash in November, sent a vehicle flying into a bus stop, striking multiple people. A father and his infant son were killed. And unfortunately, serious crashes like this one were far too common last year.

According to the Arizona Department of Transportation, the state saw more deaths last year than in nearly 15 years. In Pima County, Deputy Marissa Hernandez says the deadly trend is easy to see.

“We did have a lower occurrence of crashes but fatal collisions actually doubled last year,” said Attorney Marc Lamber with Fennemore Craig in Phoenix, who is watching these numbers closely.

Lamber notes that ADOT reported 5 billion less miles driven last year, despite the increase in deaths,

“It stands out and makes you think, well, what’s going on?” asked Lamber.

Lamber believes speed was one factor. Digging deeper into ADOT’s latest crash data, more people were killed on Arizona roads in speed-related crashes last year than in the last five years.

“So, what we’re seeing is the number of accidents is down, the number of injuries is down, but the number of fatalities because we have vehicles going a lot faster, the number of fatalities is going up,” said Attorney Greg Stoltz with Grabb and Durando.

Stoltz believes another contributing factor was impaired driving. While DUI crashes were down across Arizona, in Pima County the number of deadly alcohol-related crashes hit a five year high with 43 deaths.

“I think that a way that a lot of people have been dealing with the increased stress and anxiety that comes out of the pandemic and all of the things that come along with being more locked down, having less social interaction, not having the same outlets for stress relief,” said Stoltz. “So people are doing more things like either drinking alone or drinking to excess.”

These attorneys say fewer people wearing seatbelts could have contributed to this spike as well. In 2020, 313 people killed in Arizona were not using a safety device. That is a slight uptick from the last few years.

”My surmise is people are thinking, ‘Well, there are not a lot of people on the road. So, I’m going out for a quick jaunt and I don’t need to put on my seatbelt,’ which is wrong,” said Lamber.

Stoltz says all these factors come together to create a deadly combination.

“People are driving faster, they’re more likely to be drinking taking drugs or medications, and all that’s really the perfect storm when it comes to things like a serious motor vehicle accident,” he said.

So, what’s happening this year? Since this is yet another year in the pandemic.

So far, we have seen a number of deadly crashes including a multiple vehicle wreck on I-10 near Tonopah in July. It involved a tractor trailer and killed six people.

Could this year be anything like last?

”It’s really unknown,” said Deputy Hernandez. “Last year, was a year that was difficult for everybody and so to compare anything to last year is hard because it was just a very different year.”

So you might be wondering, when are the deadliest times on the roads? According to ADOT’s 2020 crash report, the peak months for deadly crashes were February and September. Saturdays saw the most deadly crashes. Those normally happened between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. as well as between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m.

Copyright 2021 KOLD News 13. All rights reserved.