GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The COVID-19 outbreak that continues to sweep across the country and Michigan is leading to safer highways in the state.

The impact is not altogether surprising, but still dramatic: far less traffic leading to far fewer crashes and a big drop in deaths.

Traffic deaths in Michigan, which have been on a slightly upward trajectory over the last decade, are down — way down. Last year by this time, 235 had died on Michigan roads, according to  Michigan State Police. So far this year, police report 187 deaths; a 20% drop.

What’s even more dramatic is what happened in March. In March 2019, state police said, there were 23,000 crashes and 67 deaths in the state.

This March, police report almost exactly half the crashes and one third the deaths — 22.

“We don’t want to hear about people getting sick or dying from this terrible virus, but to hear news that traffic deaths are declining is definitely a positive,” MSP Lt. David Cope told News 8 on Friday.

Of course, the numbers are just preliminary, since it sometimes takes a while for some police departments to file crash reports. There’s no way, for instance, that there were just three crashes in all of Michigan on March 31 this year, compared to 471 that day last year.

Graphic credit: Andrew Storm/WOOD TV8

But police say they have definitely responded to fewer crashes.

“There could be a number of factors, but obviously I think a pretty significant factor is going to be the lack of traffic,” Cope said.

The state Department of Transportation has said the pandemic has cut traffic in half on Michigan roads, especially since the governor’s March 24 stay-at-home order.

That, no doubt, is helping the state’s Toward Zero Deaths campaign.

“When this pandemic is over, we want those traffic deaths to continue to decline. We’re hopeful that we’ll see those numbers trend in the same direction,” Cope said.

Of course, Cope acknowledged, the wide open roads are leading some to drive a little too fast. Troopers, he said, are still writing tickets:

“If someone’s ripping down the freeway at 90 mph, the trooper’s not going to just watch them sail on by just because they’re afraid of exposing themselves to COVID-19.”