The Pandemic Effect: Car Crash Data in Ohio

By: Colin R. Ray

As you may have noticed, the easing of Ohio’s Covid-19 related restrictions and the recovery of the local economy has led to increased traffic on Ohio’s roads and highways. Typically (and logically), more traffic leads to more crashes. The Ohio State Highway Patrol maintains detailed statistics on crashes in Ohio on a yearly basis. The data indicates some interesting trends that may well be attributable to changes in behavior over the past 18 months.

Using 2018 and 2019 as a reference point, there were 297,826 reported crashes in 2018 and 296,579 crashes in 2019. In 2020, that number plunged to 245,838, a difference of nearly 52,000 fewer crashes from 2018 that amounts to a 17% decline in crashes. This certainly makes sense with what many would assume—fewer cars on the road in 2020 led to fewer crashes.

What may be interesting is when these crashes occurred. Ohio’s crash data is subdivided by many categories, including crashes in specific calendar months. In the month of April 2019, Ohio saw 22,268 crashes of any sort. That evaporated to just 11,483 crashes in April of 2020, when many Ohioans were subject to stay-at-home orders from the state or from local municipalities. 2020 generally saw fewer crashes in each calendar month when compared to 2019, as might be expected given that fewer drivers were on the roads.

The OSHP’s data can be further analyzed by county and otherwise. Cuyahoga County followed the statewide trends, falling from 34,060 crashes in 2019 to 28,686 in 2020. Crashes in Cuyahoga County were also down by about half in April 2020, from 2,632 to 1,342.

The trends were not all positive. One tragic aspect of the crash database is that fatal crashes actually increased in 2020 despite there being fewer overall crashes. In 2019 there were 1,041 fatal crashes within the state, but this number rose to 1,153 in 2020. And unfortunately, the number of alcohol-related crashes in the state also increased in 2020, from 13,047 in 2019 to 13,136 last year. On a monthly basis, these crashes, which are classified as “OVI-related” by the Highway Patrol, were sharply down statewide in April, but greatly increased over the 2020 summer months. Interestingly, during the first six months of 2020, statewide OVI-related crashes have generally been higher than they were even in 2020. While these crashes occur at all hours of the day, some 45% of OVI-related crashes occur between the hours of 8 p.m. and 3 a.m.

Speed is also a factor in nearly every crash. Speed-related crashes, as classified by the Highway Patrol, were nearly unchanged, with 30,354 in 2019 and 30,120 in 2020, with 15,168 through the first portion of 2021. And interestingly, school bus-related crashes were down from 1,330 in 2019 to just 577 in all of 2020, while deer-related crashes were down slightly, from 19,375 to 17,688.

The traffic safety changes from 2019 to 2020 will be interesting to track as much of the state returns to pre-pandemic activities. Many news reports have suggested that workers have left the workforce, perhaps permanently, which could lead to fewer cars on the road for lengthy commutes and, accordingly, to fewer crashes. On the other hand, other news reports have suggested that more people have taken up drinking to cope with pandemic-related isolation, which could sustain the trend of increased OVI-related crashes.

Catastrophic injury and death resulting from car crashes represent a substantial portion of McCarthy Lebit’s Personal Injury practice. Crashes involving excessive speed or drunken driving by the at-fault party often result in more severe injuries and those cases require careful attention. Sometimes these require testimony from accident reconstruction experts, engineering experts, and others, so having confidence in your legal counsel’s understanding of these concepts is critical.

Our team doesn’t provide a “one size fits all” form of representation—we believe each case and each client is unique and deserves the kind of careful attention and analysis that comes from years of experience. Since car crashes can happen to anyone, including and often, to safe drivers, we routinely represent family members of current or former clients who may simply need help navigating the difficult time in the aftermath of a crash when dealing with insurance companies. Regardless of who the client is or whether we’ve represented them in other areas of our firm, we strive to deliver the kind of extraordinary service that all our clients have come to expect.

Colin R. Ray is an attorney at the Cleveland, OH-based law firm McCarthy, Lebit, Crystal &  Liffman Co., LPA.