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Several states report plummeting number of fatal car crashes amid coronavirus pandemic

California sees 84% drop in fatal car crashes
California freeways see 84% drop in fatal car crashes amid pandemic 02:40

At least 20 U.S. states reported seeing a noticeable drop in fatal car crashes during the coronavirus pandemic. CBS News reached out to 26 states with a historically high number of traffic deaths, and found that fatal car crashes on California freeways dropped a stunning 84%.

California highway patrol Captain Salvadore Suarez said his state's plea to residents to not "come out and drive unless you absolutely have to" has been working. The state's total traffic is down 35%, meaning the freeways are open for emergency responders.

"Fire personnel, ambulances, law enforcement, they could utilize our freeway systems and be able to get from call to call a lot faster," Suarez told CBS News' Kris Van Cleave. 

Michigan saw a similar drop in fatal crashes during the pandemic, with the rate falling 67%. In Illinois, they fell 57%. 

Across the country, however, there are notable exceptions. Louisiana, Minnesota and Oklahoma have all said they have seen a rise in traffic deaths during this period. Police nationwide saw the rate of drivers going 100 miles per hour or faster jump by 30%. 

However, the overall drop in crashes prompted auto insurers like AllState to give hundreds of millions in refunds.

"Less driving leads to fewer accidents and we just thought it was the fair thing to do," Glenn Shapiro, president of AllState personal insurance, said. 

New York City also saw a favorable outcome from the drop in driving, going 46 days without a pedestrian death — the longest stretch seen since the city started keeping track in 1983. 

Meredith Tomason, whose mother was killed crossing the street in downtown Washington, D.C., said she hopes the drop in these deaths will outlast the pandemic. 

"It's 18 months since she's gone. A lot has changed and the pang and the hole that is in my heart and in my stomach for her has not changed," Tomason said. "Are we just going to go back to the way things were? I certainly hope not."

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