TOWSON, Md. (WJZ) — There was less traffic on the roads last year, but that doesn’t mean it was safer to drive.

According to AAA Mid-Atlantic, deadly crashes in Maryland were up 12% last year compared to 2019 and up 17% from 2018.

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More than 560 people were killed on the road in the past year with fewer miles driven, AAA Mid-Atlantic said.

“It appears that many motorists, while there were fewer of them on the highways, took the open roads and empty lanes as a license to drive at excessive speeds,” Ragina Ali, of AAA Mid-Atlantic, said.

It’s not just in Maryland. Preliminary estimates from the National Safety Council show more than 42,000 motor vehicle deaths in 2020. That’s up 8% from the year before and marks a 13-year high.

Ali said although traffic volume dropped, risky behavior spiked.

“They saw more speeding, more aggressive driving, more reckless behavior behind the wheel,” she said.

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Baltimore City alone saw a 68% decrease in traffic, compared to a 14% dip in Annapolis.

Drivers said as COVID restrictions continue to be lifted, roads are only going to get more crowded.

“Little by little it got back to normal,” Randy Nelson said.

“It’s picking up a little bit,” William Brown said. “I noticed that. Heading downtown, it’s heavier than usual.”

In addition to the spike in death rates, about 4.8 million people were seriously hurt in crashes last year.

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Officials are warning drivers to be careful, especially as schools start to reopen and more kids are heading back to the buildings.

Kelsey Kushner