Wyoming and Teton County had fewer crashes and traffic fatalities last year compared with 2019.
This reduction marks Wyoming as one of a handful of states with decreases in the number of traffic accidents and fatalities, according to U.S. Department of Transportation statistics. USDOT figures show a 7.2% increase in traffic fatalities nationwide from 2019 to 2020.
There were 38,680 traffic fatalities nationwide in 2020, compared with 36,096 the year before, according to the Transportation Department’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
In Wyoming, there were 127 traffic-related fatalities in 2020, down from 147 in 2019, Wyoming Department of Transportation reports state. The total number of traffic accidents in Wyoming last year — 13,161 — was the lowest in the past 10 years.
County-level statistics mostly reflect these downward trends, but the differences aren’t as striking. Teton County had three traffic-related fatalities last year compared with four in 2019, WYDOT reports state. There were 473 crashes in the county last year, seven fewer than in 2019.
These statewide and, to a lesser extent, countywide trends may have something to do with the significantly lower number of drivers on Wyoming roads in the first six months of 2020, as the pandemic hit and tourism was down, according to WYDOT Public Affairs Officer Doug McGee.
“A lot of folks weren’t up and out traveling just yet,” McGee said. “Fewer vehicles equals fewer crashes.”
“In Teton County, we didn’t really see much of a change,” said Wyoming Highway Patrol Lt. Matt Brackin. “But if we’re looking at a statewide perspective, I would almost have to bet that COVID had an impact.”
The three months with the fewest traffic crashes statewide in 2020 were March, April and May, when the pandemic swept across the United States, resulting in travel restrictions and lockdowns. In 2020 the number of overnight visitors in Wyoming fell from 9.2 million in 2019 to 7.3 million in 2020, according to a Wyoming Office of Tourism report.
A drop of nearly 2 million overnight visitors in 2020 from the year before might contribute to the decrease in statewide crashes while crash numbers rose nationwide, McGee said. But he was careful not to attribute reasons for the decrease.
“There are so many factors in traffic crashes, so it’s hard to speculate on any one reason why that [trend] might be,” he said.
This trend isn’t consistent across Wyoming, either. In Lincoln County, where many Jackson commuters live, there were 374 traffic accidents in 2020, 12 more than the year prior. There were five fatal crashes in the county last year, one fewer than in 2019.
There were also more injuries resulting from crashes in Teton County in 2020 than 2019, up from 91 to 101.