You’ve probably heard the anecdotes of speed demons taking over cities where people are in lockdown. It is true that the lockdowns have led to unprecedented levels of free traffic. Generally, we would expect fewer drivers on the road to mean fewer car crashes. Have speeders on quieter roads created a dangerous situation?
It appears likely, based on a recent Reuters report. After examining the experiences of cities around the country and worldwide, the National Safety Council and Reuters both found an increase in the deadliness of collisions.
To be clear, there were fewer car crashes overall due to the reduction in traffic volume. Unfortunately, the severity of crashes has gone up over the past few months, meaning that what car crashes there are have become deadlier.
The National Safety Council called it an “apparent open season on reckless driving.”
In New York City, the ratio of fatal collisions to all collisions was up by 167% in April over last year’s numbers. In Chicago, that ratio grew by 292%.
Researchers from the Center for Urban and Regional Analysis at the Ohio State University found a combination of less traffic and more speeding. “The level of extreme speeding is really shocking,” said a spokesperson.
In Cleveland, Cincinnati and Columbus, average speeds between March 28 and April 19 only rose slightly. However, there was a dramatic increase in the amount of extreme speeding.
Extreme speeding creates extreme severity in crashes
Collisions at low speeds give us fender-benders, but higher speeds increase the severity of the crashes that result. This is why fatality rates are going up even though overall accident rates are down.
One aspect of speed is that traffic congestion usually prevents it from getting out of hand, at least in cities. Now, that check on speed has been removed — to devastating results.
In New York City, the excess speeding was noticeable by a traffic analytics company. In April of last year, the average speed in the city was 28 mph. This April it had increased to 41 mph.
We need to rethink transportation planning
We can’t rely on traffic congestion to keep us safer by keeping speeds down. There has to be some ways we can reduce the speed of crashes altogether.
Some cities have been reducing their speed limits. Others have closed entire streets during the lockdown, dedicating whole areas to bikers and pedestrians. Some cities are simply increasing traffic patrols.
A spokesperson for Transportation Alternatives, a safe streets group, noted that wide streets currently look like highways, and that attracts fast driving. There are a number of things transportation planners can do to slow traffic down, although that’s not usually what they’re trying to do.
Can you think of some ways cities here in California could work to reduce excess speed? The thrill of a fast ride down a freeway that’s usually bumper-to-bumper may be heady, but it is dangerous.