BOISE – 2020 was a bad year, made worse by an increase in the number of fatal crashes on American roads.  Fortunately, AAA says that Idaho was not part of the deadly trend.

According to the National Safety Council, more than 42,000 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2020 – an 8% increase in deaths despite a global pandemic that triggered a 13% reduction in vehicle miles traveled.  It was the most fatalities in 13 years.

But the Gem State fared much better.  With a 7% decrease, Idaho was one of just nine states that saw a drop in deaths, sharing that distinction with regional neighbors like Wyoming (-13%) and North Dakota (-1%).

As more people resume their normal travel activities, AAA is asking drivers to make better use of seat belts and brush up on their skills before setting out on a long-awaited road trip.

“In a year when many people were studying, working, and playing at home, we’re thrilled that we were able to make some progress on safe driving here in Idaho.  But most states went in the opposite direction,” says AAA Idaho public affairs director Matthew Conde.  “It’s a good reminder to get rid of some bad habits so that everyone can have a safe and enjoyable summer.”

Seat belt use in Idaho and across the country is improving, with nearly 91% of Americans and 86% of Gem State drivers choosing to buckle up.  But there is more work to be done, as these numbers reflect daytime use in the front seat; nighttime and back seat use are lower.  According to the Idaho Transportation Department, 71 Idahoans were saved in 2019 because of a seat belt, but 42 more could have been saved had they used this basic safety equipment.

“As we’ve learned, a body in motion is subject to the laws of physics – if you’re in a collision, it simply isn’t possible to stay in the vehicle using strength alone,” Conde said.  “There are three elements to a crash – the vehicle striking something, the passengers striking objects in the vehicle, and internal organs being jolted.  A seat belt can significantly reduce the risk of injury and death.”

ITD reports that in 2019, rollover crashes made up 61% of single vehicle fatalities.  Seat belt use can reduce rollover deaths by 74% in passenger vehicles and 80% in light trucks.

AAA reminds drivers that larger vehicles are not necessarily safer in a crash.  While many Idahoans wear their seat belts in passenger vehicles, vans, and SUVs, a much lower number buckle up while driving a pickup truck.  According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, young adults, men, and back-seat passengers are the most likely to be unrestrained in a fatal crash.

“Please remember that with more people on the roads, there isn’t a lot of empty space to maneuver,” Conde said.  “Please watch your speed, communicate your intentions clearly, and increase your following distance during times of heavy traffic, glare, and bad weather.  People have been looking forward to this summer for a long time, and we all need to do our part to stay safe.”