If you’re like me, you’ve noticed an uptick in risky driving in the past couple of months. Although there are fewer cars on the roads, I’ve noticed drivers weaving in and out of traffic in alarming ways. My area has experienced multiple fatality crashes attributed to speeds of up to 100 mph. I’ve witnessed drivers ignoring traffic signals and traffic signs, cutting off other drivers, and generally behaving badly.
Apparently, it’s a thing: Preliminary estimates and data from the National Safety Council are showing emptier but riskier roads during COVID-19 pandemic. Despite fewer vehicles on the road, roadway deaths have increased.
Preliminary estimates from the National Safety Council show that as Americans began driving less and covering fewer miles, the emptier roads became more lethal. Early data indicate a year-over-year 14 percent jump in fatality rates per miles driven in March, in spite of an 8 percent drop in the total number of roadway deaths compared to March 2019. The actual number of miles driven dropped 18.6 percent compared to the same time period last year.
Through the first three months of 2020, several states have experienced notable increases in the number of roadway deaths: Arkansas (16 percent), California (8 percent), Connecticut (42 percent), Illinois (11 percent), Louisiana (23 percent), Nevada (10 percent), New York (17 percent), North Carolina (10 percent), Oklahoma (9 percent), Tennessee (6 percent), and Texas (6 percent).
“Disturbingly, we have open lanes of traffic and an apparent open season on reckless driving,” said Lorraine M. Martin, NSC president and CEO. “Right now, in the midst of a global pandemic and crisis, we should take it as our civic duty to drive safely. If we won’t do it for ourselves, we should do it for our first responders, our law enforcement and our healthcare workers, who are rightly focused on coronavirus patients and should not be overwhelmed by preventable car crashes.”
Some Good Traffic Safety News
Not all of the news is bad, however. States with notable decreases include: Arizona (-4 percent), Hawaii (-32 percent), Idaho (-28 percent), Iowa (-13 percent), Maryland (-13 percent), Michigan (-12 percent), Oregon (-24 percent), and South Carolina (-12 percent).
For the three-day Memorial Day weekend starting at 6 p.m. ET Friday, May 22, NSC estimates 366 potential fatalities. If the estimate holds, it will be the lowest number of fatalities for the holiday period since 2014.
Quarantines and shelter in place directives across the country likely account for part of the drop in fatalities. However, additional insight is needed to determine the alarming rise in death rates. As I noticed in my area, anecdotal reports indicate speeding, for example, has increased significantly since traffic diminished. Some states are moving forward with measures intended to address challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, that could have far-reaching consequences. Some states repealed requirements for teen drivers to pass road tests before acquiring licenses. Others have relaxed hours of service rules for commercial vehicle drivers.
Gains Reversed – Tips For Safer Roads
Even with the declining fatality numbers in March, road deaths increased an estimated 2 percent through the first three months of 2020 compared to last year. This tentatively reverses gains made in 2018 and 2019.
To help ensure safer roads, particularly during the pandemic, NSC urges motorists to:
- Follow state and local directives and stay off the roads if officials have directed you do to so; many states are asking drivers to stay home except in emergency situations or for essential errands
- Obey speed limits, even if roads are clear and traffic is light
- Be aware of increased pedestrian and bicycle traffic as people turn to walking and biking to get out of the house. Conversely, pedestrians and bicyclists should remember that reduced traffic does not mean no traffic. Be careful when crossing or walking in streets
- Practice defensive driving. Buckle up, designate a sober driver or arrange alternative transportation. Get plenty of sleep to avoid fatigue. Drive attentively, avoiding distractions
- Stay engaged with teen drivers’ habits and practice with them frequently – tips are available at nsc.org/DriveitHOME
- Organizations and employers can join the Road to Zero Coalition. The coalition hopes to eliminate roadway deaths by 2050.