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Los Angeles traffic was dramatically down last year. Traffic fatalities were not.

The pandemic noticeably altered traffic in Los Angeles, a city famous for its car culture. The most obvious difference between 2020 and pre-pandemic 2019 was that there were dramatically fewer vehicles on city streets in 2020.

Though there were fewer crashes in Los Angeles last year, the number of people killed in motor vehicle accidents in the city stayed virtually the same as in 2019.

Grim numbers

The Los Angeles Department of Transportation reported that 238 people lost their lives in traffic crashes last year, down just 3 percent from the 246 who were killed in 2019.

Traffic levels plunged by as much as 70 percent in March 2020 and by 30 percent to 50 percent (compared to the early part of 2020) in April.

While driving has increased from the depths of 2020, it is still below pre-pandemic norms, reports LAist.

Five-year trend

Another jarring statistic: nearly 250 people were killed in city traffic crashes every year from 2016 through 2020. That average is up by about one-third over the previous five years. Much of that increase is the result of a wave of pedestrian deaths that defy the city’s street safety plan, Vision Zero.

The heady goal of the plan when it was introduced six years ago was to reduce traffic fatalities 20 percent by 2017 and reduce them to zero by 2025.

The first goal was missed and the second one doesn’t appear to be even remotely likely.

The disturbing trend’s main cause

What explains the discrepancy between dramatically reduced traffic and a persistently high level of fatalities? Los Angeles Department of Transportation spokesperson Colin Sweeny said the department has identified the culprit: “a disturbing trend of continued speeding on our streets that left us with more people seriously injured or killed citywide — despite historic decreases in traffic volumes.”

He said the speeding phenomenon wasn’t limited to Southern California but could be seen on city streets, freeways and interstate highways across the nation. “In addition to the public health crisis, 2020 revealed a pandemic of speeding,” Sweeny said.

It’s clear that resolutions of both public health crises will require persistent and significant efforts from all.