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The US saw an increase in the number of people killed in highway accidents in the first nine months of 2020. Despite restrictions put in place due to coronavirus crisis, the deaths rose by 4.6% compared the the year-ago period.

According to the data from The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 28,190 people died in traffic crashes from January through September last year, up from 26,941 in the same period of 2019.

Though there were very few vehicles on roads during the early months of the pandemic, crashes have only increased. As per the US authorities this is because people developed risky driving behavior such as speeding, taking advantage of less vehicles on roads. As reported by the Associated Press (AP), the US safety agency, in a letter addressed to the nation's drivers, said, "Preliminary data tells us that during the national health emergency, fewer Americans drove, but those who did took more risks and had more fatal crashes."

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Detailed study of data from the safety agency shows that the traffic deaths rose 0.6% during the first-quarter of 2020 but fell 1.1% in the second quarter as lockdowns restricted movement. However, fatalities spiked 13.1% from July through September.

During the pandemic restrictions, drivers took advantage of open roads and drove faster. The practice of speeding continued even as traffic volumes recovered. “We think the big culprit is speeding," Jonathan Adkins, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association, was quoted as saying by AP. "A big factor here is the lack of enforcement. We are hearing from many states that traffic stops have declined during Covid-19. Drivers feel like they can speed and get away with it," he added.

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Further NHTSA data shows that there was a 22% increase in vehicle speeds in several US metropolitan areas compared to the pre-pandemic numbers. Another study found that about 65% of drivers who were involved in serious crashes last year and treated at trauma centers, had drugs or alcohol in their systems. The percentage is in comparison with the 50.6% pre-pandemic percentage. In fact, the US safety agency also found that fewer people were wearing seat belts.

The agency is promoting safe driving in the country, telling people not to drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol and wear seat belts as well as to avoid speeding.

(With inputs from agencies)