The number of fatal car crashes spiked by 21% in Washoe County last year. Here's why. – Reno Gazette Journal

Editor’s note: This story was amended to correct a percentage.

It can take one second to change your life and someone else’s when driving. 

That’s what Trooper Hannah DeGoey, public information officer for the Nevada Highway Patrol, said when discussing driving behaviors that contributed to a sharply growing number of fatal crashes in the area. 

Washoe County saw a 21% increase in deadly crashes from 2019 to 2020, according to preliminary data obtained by the Reno Gazette Journal from Nevada’s Office of Traffic Safety on all fatal collisions in Washoe County from 2015 to 2020. 

According to the data, 49 individuals died in car crashes last year.

Approximately 48% of all fatal crashes in Washoe County last year are listed as having multiple causes, with more than half involving substance use. Other causes include:

14% involved a collision with a pedestrian19% involved a collision with a motorcycle16% were because someone was unrestrained16% were speed-related34% involved substance use1% involved distracted drivingWhy did car crashes spike in 2020?

While pandemic lockdowns and stay-at-home orders kept many drivers off U.S. roads and highways last year, those who did venture out found open lanes that only invited reckless driving, leading to a sharp increase in traffic-crash deaths across the country.

The nonprofit National Safety Council estimates in a report issued in early March that 42,060 people died in vehicle crashes in 2020, an 8% increase over 2019 and the first jump in four years.

Plus, the fatality rate per 100 million miles driven spiked 24%, the largest annual percentage increase since the council began collecting data in 1923.

And even though traffic is now getting close to pre-coronavirus levels, the bad behavior on the roads is continuing, authorities say.

“It’s not the roads themselves that’s the issue. It’s not an engineering issue. What we’re seeing is a lack of personal responsibility behind the wheel,” DeGoey said. 

She added that impaired driving continues to be the

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