Less traffic, more deadly crashes in Bernalillo County in 2020

Traffic and Roads

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Last year, traffic went down when the pandemic hit as businesses closed and people stayed home. However, data shows that deadly crashes actually went up during that time in Bernalillo County.

Bernalillo County had 109 deadly crashes in 2020 compared with 104 in 2019 and 94 in 2018, according to a report from the New Mexico Department of Transportation (NMDOT). Particularly, during the summer months, severe crash numbers about doubled each month in 2020 from the year before. “There’s a lot of fatal crashes in the Albuquerque region, and we need to do a lot better,” said Willy Simon, a transportation planner with the Mid-Region Council of Governments (MRCOG).

It is tough to say for sure why deadly crash numbers did not drop along with traffic, but Simon suspects that fewer cars on the road actually gives more space for aggressive driving. That is what MRCOG has found over the years on Central, east of San Mateo, where there are six lanes of traffic but low daily traffic volumes. “That’s actually the most dangerous stretch of roadway when it comes to fatal accidents happening year after year,” Simon said.

Statewide deadly crash data from NMDOT

MRCOG is still waiting on more data to see specifically where the deadly crashes in the Albuquerque area happened last year. That way they can see whether those spots correlate with where MRCOG found the biggest reductions in traffic, because some areas saw bigger drops in traffic volume than others. “Areas of high employment, such as the Journal Center or downtown, they’re recovering at a much slower rate,” MRCOG Transportation Planner Nathan Masek said in September last year about traffic count data during the pandemic.

There may also be another factor to consider with the slight uptick in severe crashes. “This is a bit above my pay grade as a transportation professional, but one thing we have been talking about is the fact that during the pandemic there’s been a lot of anxiety. You know, there’s a lot of people out of work and there’s just a lot of worry, and we wonder if maybe that has contributed to aggressive driving,” Simon said.

Unlike Bernalillo County, New Mexico as a whole did see a drop in deadly crashes during the pandemic compared to previous years. It is also still unclear if crashes overall may have dropped, even in Bernalillo County, despite the increase in severe crashes.

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