BALTIMORE (WJZ) — One bright spot of the COVID-19 pandemic was less traffic on the roads, but that didn’t mean it was any safer.

In fact, traffic deaths are up. Nearly 600 Marylanders lost their lives last year.

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The Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) said last year, 569 people died in crashes statewide.

That’s an increase of 6.4% compared to 2019 and the highest number of traffic deaths in 12 years.

“With less traffic on the roads, we’ve seen drivers traveling at higher speeds, tailgating, weaving through traffic, engaging in reckless behavior,” Greg Slater, MDOT Secretary, said.

In April 2020, traffic dropped by 50% and it remains down by 11%.

Maryland State Police said last year they issued more than 14,000 citations for impaired driving, but the number of people caught speeding was even higher.

“In 2020, law enforcement issued approximately 114,000 citations for speeding. Half of those were for speeds 25 miles per hour over the posted limit,” Maryland State Police Superintendent Col. Woodrow W. Jones III said.

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Highway officials said they also noticed an increase in pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities, nearly 150 combined.

“This is really just an unacceptable trend,” Slater said.

For the first time in several years, research shows less than 90% of drivers are wearing their seatbelts.

Some drivers said, pandemic or not, the spending doesn’t stop.

“People speed no matter what,” Ashley Grant, of Baltimore, said. “So I don’t think the pandemic has anything to do with it. I just think people are in such a rush, and it scares me, honestly.”

Officials say just sending or reading a text message takes your eyes off the road for a total of five seconds.

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At a speed of 55 miles per hour, that’s equivalent to driving the length of a football field blindfolded.

Kelsey Kushner