Despite COVID-19 shutdown, there was huge rise in deadly wrecks on Georgia roads

ATLANTA — Despite there being fewer cars on the road during the early months of the pandemic, Georgia saw an increase in deaths from crashes last year.

Channel 2′s Lori Wilson talked to the cousin of a young mother killed in a wreck nearly a year ago about the toll it’s taken on their family.

Stevie Bryant and her daughter were inseparable until Bryant died in a crash at age 27. The crash happened on I-75/I-85 at Fulton Street on a rainy day in May 2020.

“A speeding vehicle who was crossing I don’t know how many lanes, but crossing lanes slammed right into her door and pushing her side into the wall,” Bryant’s cousin Kelsea Oliver said. “It’s so sad because they were the closest you could ever see a mother and daughter be.”

The driver, Carl Anthony Smith, is waiting to stand trial on a list of charges including homicide by vehicle and driving too fast for conditions. Smith’s attorney told Channel 2 his client did not cause the accident.

It’s a scenario that happened all too often during the pandemic. According to the National Safety Council the preliminary estimated death rate on U.S. roads in 2020 spiked 24% over 2019 despite the number of miles driven dropping 13%. Georgia experienced an 18% rise in deaths last year.

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“People look at it as an opportunity like I said when the roadway being that open. They think that there’s not, not a realistic chance of them getting hurt because there’s nobody else out there,” said Georgia State Patrol Lt. Mark Riley.

Riley looked at the number of crashes GSP handled between March 15 and July 20 and found there were about 24,000 crashes in 2019, and 16,000 in 2020.

“There was a reduction of approximately 8,000 crashes,” Riley said.

But during that same time crashes were down deaths went up from 318 in 2019, to 342 in 2020.

Channel 2 wanted to know if speeding played a role and filed an open records request with GSP to find out how many tickets troopers handed out for driving more than 100 miles per hour over the past three years.

The number rose from 1,971 in 2018, to 2,248 in 2019, to 4,803 in 2020. That’s a 114% increase from 2019 to 2020.

“The speeding increase doesn’t necessarily reflect the increase in fatalities, the contributing factors for the fatalities could be a host of things. There are a lot of variables that are involved, not just speeding,” Riley said.

He told Channel 2 the top five factors contributing to crashes are following too closely, distracted driving, driving too fast for conditions, DUI and speeding.

Stevie Bryant’s family knows firsthand how painful it is to lose a loved one in a crash and hopes drivers will follow the rules of the road.

“You’re risking not only your life but other people’s lives, and it’s just terrible. They need to slow down,” Oliver said.

The Georgia Department of Transportation reported 1,491 traffic deaths in 2019 and 1,716 traffic deaths in 2020, but last year’s numbers are preliminary.

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