2020 Florida Road Safety Roundup

2020 has been the year of the coronavirus, and with COVID-19’s widespread reach, it even impacted Florida road safety.

Let’s take a look at Florida road safety in general and how it was affected by COVID-19 in 2020.

Florida Road Safety in General

Florida has something of a reputation for having bad drivers. Despite Miami coming in number 10 on a 2020 list of the safest driving cities in America, Florida, as a whole, consistently ranks among the worst states for driving.

According to SmartAsset, Florida came in fourth place on the 2020 list of the worst states to drive in. While the DUI rate is low, only 73.30% of drivers in Florida carry auto insurance, which makes Floridians the least insured drivers in the country. Florida also has among the highest rate of online searches for traffic-related tickets.

Having said that, Florida also boasts the eighth-lowest DUI rate in the country. This could be thanks to the required Traffic Law and Substance Abuse Education training in Florida.

Given this baseline, let’s look back at Florida road safety in 2020.

Less Traffic on Florida Roads in 2020

In April of 2020, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis issued an executive order requiring all Floridians to stay home, except for essential outings like getting groceries, keeping doctor’s appointments, and going to work (for those whose work was deemed essential). And even when the order expired, those who were able to work and study from home were heavily encouraged to do so.

With so many Floridians staying home in 2020, traffic naturally declined. According to a report published by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), traffic volume had dropped by an average of 47.5% across 212 varied study sites located throughout the state on March 22, 2020, compared to the same day in 2019.

Fewer vehicles on the roads have a few obvious benefits: lower emissions are good for the planet, and less traffic means less time spent commuting. But if you thought less traffic would mean safer driving conditions, you would be mistaken. 

Higher Rate of Fatalities in Florida Crashes

According to traffic engineering firm, Sam Schwartz, Florida saw only a 6% decrease in crash fatalities from January through June of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. Given how much lighter traffic was during this period, we would have expected fewer fatalities.

Unfortunately, Florida isn’t alone in experiencing increased fatalities per mile driven in 2020 compared to 2021. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that the fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT) is up nationwide from a rate of 1.06 in 2019 to a rate of 1.25 in the first six months of 2020.

Why Has the Percentage of Crashes and Fatalities Increased in 2020?

While DUIs have been blamed for the increased fatality rate in many states with alcohol sales on the rise during the pandemic, this doesn’t appear to be the case in Florida. Florida actually saw a 50% decrease in DUI arrests in March 2020 compared to March 2019.

Instead, speeding seems to be the big culprit in Florida. Florida is seeing fewer traffic tickets issued while people stay at home during the pandemic, but it’s also seeing a higher percentage of reckless speeding tickets.

“There is so much swirling around in people’s brains because they are out of a job, looking for food, worried about their parents, taking care of their kids, and they are not concentrating," explained former Florida Highway Patrol Trooper (and current Coral Gables Public Affairs Officer) Kelly Denham to the Miami Herald. "Driving requires a lot of concentration. I call these people unconscious drivers. They see an open road, free of the usual choke points and they’re creeping faster and faster.”

Denham makes the interesting point that it isn’t only speeding that’s the issue, but speeding while distracted. Distracted driving has always been an issue and continued to be one in 2020.

Distracted Driving Issues

In November 2020, ValuePenguin compiled a report of distracted driving incidents in Florida by county based on 2018 data from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

This data shows which counties are the safest in terms of distracted driving and which are the most dangerous.

Top 5 Safest Florida Counties for Distracted Driving

Of the large counties with over 300,000, residents, these are found to be the safest in terms of distracted driving:

  1. Miami-Dade

  2. Pasco

  3. Sarasota

  4. Palm Beach

  5. Manatee

Top 5 Most Dangerous Florida Counties for Distracted Driving

These were found to be the worst of the large counties in terms of distracted driving:

  1. Orange

  2. Osceola

  3. St. Lucie

  4. Hillsborough

  5. Duval

Drive Safer in 2021

To be a safer driver in 2021, stay vigilant no matter how much (or how little) traffic is sharing the road. Don’t allow yourself to get distracted, stick to the speed limit, and never drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol.  You may even consider Florida traffic school to help yourself become a better driver.

Here’s to better Florida road safety in 2021!

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