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Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans drove less but engaged in far riskier behavior on the road, government data shows.

Driving the news: More than half of all crash fatalities last year involved unbelted drivers or occupants, the highest level since 2012, The Wall Street Journal notes.

Between the lines: An estimated 38,680 people died in car crashes last year, 7% more than in 2019, despite less cars being on the road. The number of unbuckled vehicle occupants killed in crashes jumped an estimated 15% from 2019.

  • Some states are trying to persuade more Americans to buckle up as travel has increased after COVID-19 lockdowns. Colorado state officials hope creative marketing will help persuade the 14% who state surveys show don’t wear seat belts, per the WSJ.
  • In 20 states, police can pull a car over if an officer sees an unbuckled adult in the front or back seat. Twenty-nine states have weaker laws where police need another reason, such as speeding, to stop a car and issue a citation, the Journal notes.

What they're saying: “It’s a reversal, and it’s concerning,” Ken Kolosh, statistics manager at the nonprofit National Safety Council, told the WSJ. He cited “the collective stress that the nation was facing and the risk-taking behaviors that fell out of that.”

Go deeper

Aug 17, 2021 - Axios Denver

Some safety officials in Colorado are bucking mask and vaccine rules

A Denver police officer stands by during a political demonstration in April 2020. Photo: Jason Connolly/AFP via Getty Images

Law enforcement members in Colorado and across the country are resisting COVID-19 vaccines and ignoring mask mandates.

Why it matters: Scores of local public safety officials — charged daily with protecting and regularly interacting with the public — have tested positive for the virus. Two Denver sheriff's deputies have died from the disease.

GOP Rep. Gonzalez retires in face of Trump-backed primary

Ohio Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R) Photographer: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Ohio Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R) announced his retirement on Thursday, declining to run against a Trump-backed primary challenger in 2022.

Why it matters: Gonzalez has suffered politically since siding with House Democrats to impeach the 45th president after the Capitol riot.

Swing voters oppose Texas abortion law

Protesters at a rally at the Texas State Capitol. Photo: Jordan Vonderhaar/Getty Images

All 10 swing voters in Axios’ latest focus groups — including those who described themselves as "pro-life" — said they oppose Texas' new anti-abortion law.

Why it matters: If their responses reflect larger patterns in U.S. society, this could hurt Republicans with women and independents in next year's midterm elections. The swing voters cited overreach, invasion of privacy and concerns about frivolous lawsuits jamming up the courts.