Speed Kills: Deadly Auto Accidents and the Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a surprising impact on traffic fatalities. With fewer drivers on the road, one would expect the number of traffic fatalities to go down, as historically they have.
The data shows that the opposite is true: Traffic fatalities actually increased during the first five months of 2020 across all fifty states.
According to the National Safety Council, the rate of U.S. traffic fatalities increased by 36.6% in April, and 23.5% in May, an enormous jump over the previous year, despite a 25% decrease in the number of miles traveled, and a 41% decrease in nationwide traffic.
For some states, the increase in traffic fatalities during the lockdown has been staggering. New Hampshire saw a 63% increase, Connecticut a 39% increase, and Louisiana a 15% increase.
Preliminary data for New York State indicate a 12% increase in traffic fatalities over the course of 2020, showing significant fatality increases for all types of motor vehicle accidents, including those involving pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists.
These statistics beg the question: If there were fewer drivers on the road, why were there more fatalities?
Probably the largest factor has been speeding, according to several news sources., With roads emptied during the lockdown, some drivers took advantage of the situation to drive well above the speed limit.
- The Iowa State Patrol reported a 101% increase over the four-year average in tickets for speeds that exceeded 100 mph, and a 75% increase in tickets for speeding 25 mph or more over the posted speed limit.
- The California Highway Patrol issued more than 15,000 tickets from March through August for speeds exceeding 100 mph.
- Ohio State Police issued 2,200 tickets since April for driving over 100 mph, a 61% increase over last year. One driver was ticketed for driving 147 mph near Cincinnati.
Speeding has not been isolated to highways. Local, suburban and urban roads have all seen significant increases in speeding. It is possible that some drivers felt emboldened to speed, believing that police would be reluctant to pull people over for fears of spreading the coronavirus, or that police resources were spread thin helping out in other critical areas of the pandemic fight.
People also tend to increase their driving speed because others around them are doing so, even if it’s above the speed limit.
Whatever the explanation, these speeding trends have continued even after most parts of the country reopened, and police nationwide have stepped up their enforcement efforts to curb this dangerous behavior.
It is well-known that speeding causes drivers to have far less control over their vehicles and significantly reduced reaction time. High-speed crashes are much more likely to nullify vehicle safety features, such as airbags, and result in fatalities.
According to the Washington Post, these same speeding drivers are also more distracted. Zendrive, a data analytics company that analyzes smartphone sensors, found that motorists have been braking harder and using their phones more while driving since the pandemic began.
According to Zendrive, after analyzing over 160 billion miles of driver data, drivers using their phones ignore the road 28% of the time, are on the road 1 ½ times more than the general population, and are more dangerous than drunk drivers. Coupled with distracted driving, the company has also seen a 27% increase in speeding overall.
Zendrive speculated that increased phone usage while driving may have been a result of people’s desire to stay informed of the evolving pandemic situation, as well as concern over the well-being of loved ones.
The Washington Post reported that drivers may be taking more risks, including drag racing or attempts to break speed records, simply because they believe they can. Some drivers may excuse their behavior as a way to relieve boredom or stress caused by the impact of the pandemic on their lifestyle.
Psychologists point out that many people turn to drugs or alcohol during stressful times. Speeding and other reckless behaviors often provide an adrenaline rush, much like a drug.
While some of the data presented here has focused on the first months of the pandemic and the lockdowns imposed by many states, the speeding trend has continued. This is likely because many more people are still working from home, schooling their children at home (at least some of the time), or are unemployed, resulting in less volume on the roadways.
Given the possibility of future restrictions or lockdowns to curb the spread of the coronavirus, it is important to recognize the risks of speeding and distracted driving.
Less-congested roads are not a valid reason to endanger the lives of others. What’s more, hospitals may again be stretched to their limits, as they were in early 2020, and traffic accidents strain those finite resources even further, diverting care from those battling COVID-19.