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Fewer people are on the roads these days, but more seem to be driving dangerously.

KOIN 6 NEWS - The scene of a Portland crash.The number of fatal crashes in the Portland area has been steadily increasing over the past two years and the trend doesn't appear to be slowing down.

There were 54 traffic deaths in 2020, according to Portland Bureau of Transportation Director of Communications John Brady.

The Portland area had seen four fatal crashes by this time in 2019 and seven by this time in 2020. So far in 2021, there have been 10 deadly crashes.

"When people drive less, there are usually less fatalities and less crashes," said Brady. "We didn't see that."

Brady said despite the pandemic and the resulting recession causing more people to stay home, those who did get behind the wheel engaged in more reckless behavior, including "increased speeding and increased excessive speeding."

Indirect evidence also suggests people who chose to drive while intoxicated or high contributed to the upward trend in deadly crashes, Brady said.

"There might be an increase in impaired driving because we had an increase in the number of crashes into fixed objects like a telephone pole or a light pole," he said.

Pedestrian deaths, however, have held steady over the last three years. Brady said three pedestrians have been killed so far this year — the same number who died by this time in 2019 and in 2020.

Aside from the uptick in deadly crashes, PBOT's traffic data did illuminate a couple of encouraging improvements: crashes have dropped at intersections where speed cameras have been installed and rubber "bumps" added at various intersections have also appeared to make a difference. Brady said the devices force drivers "to take a wider turn and slow down." Intersections featuring these rubber bumps witnessed no deaths in 2020, Brady said.

On a statewide level, Oregon State Police told KOIN 6 News the number of traffic deaths have held steady within a few percentage points of 2020.

KOIN 6 News is a news partner of the Portland Tribune. Their story can be found here.


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