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An impaired driver was critically injured in this crash. Photo: Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

There were fewer cars on the road last spring during the height of the pandemic, but traffic fatality rates increased 30% in the second quarter as evidence suggests drivers engaged in more risky behavior, federal officials say.

Why it matters: The sharp reversal in what had been a three-year trend toward lower traffic deaths raised alarms within the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, where officials vowed to dig deeper.

  • "We've never seen trends like this and we feel an urgency ... to turn this around as quickly as possible," NHTSA deputy administrator James Owens said.

What they found: Total traffic volume fell 16% during the first half of 2020, NHTSA said in a release, while traffic deaths fell just 3%.

  • The fatality rate during the second quarter was 1.42 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, sharply higher than the first quarter rate of 1.10, which was in line with historical trends.
  • A second NHTSA study of trauma centers found seriously injured or fatal crash victims took risks during the pandemic that included speeding, driving impaired, and not using their seat belts.
  • For example, the study revealed a higher prevalence of alcohol, cannabinoids, and opioids in crash victims during the quarter compared to the months prior to the pandemic.

The bottom line: Risky behavior, along with a potential reduction in law enforcement and safety messaging during the pandemic, could have contributed to increased fatality rates, NHTSA concluded.

Go deeper

Jan 8, 2021 - Health

Biden to release nearly all available COVID-19 vaccine doses to the public

Photo: Joshua Roberts/Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden plans to release nearly all available coronavirus vaccine doses when he takes office, CNN reports.

Why it matters: Releasing nearly all doses would allow more people to get vaccinated with at least one dose. At the moment, the Trump administration is withholding half of U.S. vaccine production to ensure recipients receive their second dose, which is required by both the Moderna and Pfizer shots to ensure 95% efficacy.

Cuomo accuser speaks out, calls denials "dangerous," "victim blaming"

Andrew Cuomo. Photo: Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

A former aide to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who accused him of sexual harassment, spoke out against his earlier denial of inappropriate behavior, telling CBS News that the lawmaker's comments were "dangerous" and "victim blaming."

Driving the news: At a press conference earlier Tuesday, Cuomo specifically addressed the allegations made by his ex-aide, Charlotte Bennett, admitting he "did ask her questions I don't normally ask people," but he flatly denied other details of her allegations.

Updated 23 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Law enforcement confirms officer was killed in Metro station attack at Pentagon

Law enforcement officers patrolling the Pentagon's transit station on August 3. Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

Pentagon Force Protection Agency Chief Woodrow Kusse said an officer was attacked at a transit station outside the Pentagon on Tuesday morning, gunfire was exchanged between the suspect and law enforcement and multiple people were injured.

The latest: "PFPAOficial mourns the tragic loss of a Pentagon Officer killed during this morning's incident at the Pentagon," the Pentagon Force Protection Agency tweeted Tuesday evening. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the Officer's family.