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With Fewer Cars On The Road, Why Didn’t Traffic Death Toll In LA Go Down During The Pandemic?




Vehicles make their way down the aging 110 freeway toward downtown L.A. during the morning commute on April 22, 2021 in Los Angeles, California.
Vehicles make their way down the aging 110 freeway toward downtown L.A. during the morning commute on April 22, 2021 in Los Angeles, California.
Mario Tama/Getty Images

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The COVID-19 pandemic upended much of normal life in Los Angeles, but there’s one local norm that stayed the same: people continue to be injured and killed in collisions on city streets at a high rate.

Even with drastically fewer cars on the roads and fewer crashes overall, the number of people killed in traffic crashes in L.A. remained virtually unchanged in 2020.

Based on preliminary data reported by the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, 238 people died in collisions last year, compared to 246 in 2019 — a decrease of about 3%.

That slight dip pales in comparison to how sharply car travel fell in greater L.A. and beyond in the early months of the pandemic. Schools closed, many workers stopped commuting to their offices, and local and state stay-at-home orders drastically limited the places and activities we could drive to in our cars.

Read more on LAist

We dive into why traffic deaths didn’t dip when there was so much less traffic on the roads. Plus, what that means for Vision Zero, the L.A. initiative that aims to rid the city of traffic deaths by 2025. 

Guests: 

Ryan Fonseca, writer and editor for LAist where he reports on transportation and mobility; his recent piece is “Traffic Was Historically Low In 2020. The Death Toll On LA's Streets Was Not”; he tweets @RyFons

Seleta Reynolds, general manager of L.A.'s Department of Transportation (LADOT); she tweets @seletajewel

Madeline Brozen, deputy director for the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies, where she co-authored the 2020 policy brief The Need to Prioritize Black Lives in LA’s Traffic Safety Efforts