The pandemic caught many of us off guard. It led to a cascade of job losses, lost economic activity and stay-at-home orders that kept many people off the roads. The freeways were empty, or almost empty, for the first time in memory.
People generally drive less in a recession, and that is what we had. Recessions have historically led to a reduction in auto accident injuries and fatalities, simply because there are fewer people on the roads to get into crashes.
Unfortunately, new data show that the pandemic and associated recession did not lead to fewer crashes. Instead, it was a rather deadly year on America’s roadways.
It appears that some people found the emptier streets irresistible. They may have felt cooped up, and driving gave them someplace new to go. They may have felt the need to cool off from constant contact with the same few people in their family bubbles. Perhaps the empty freeways called to people who feel the need for speed.
Whatever the reason, many people who chose to drive during the lockdowns chose to speed. They also chose to drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs at greater rates than usual. And, some people chose this time to learn how to ride a motorcycle.
NHTSA: Traffic fatalities jumped by 30%, led by speeding
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the nation’s traffic fatality rate rose by as much as 30% between April and June over the first three months of the year.
Here in California, we know that instances of speeding over 100 mph rose dramatically. During the first month of the statewide lockdown, tickets for super speeding surged by 87%.
“There were places that saw more speeding tickets issued during Covid than ever before,” a traffic safety expert told reporters. “Bottom line is, the risk on the road during the Covid era is significantly higher. The chance of dying in a car crash is higher than pre-Covid.”
The good news is that pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities appear to be down during the pandemic, even though bicycling took off in popularity.
As we move forward, drivers should take extra care of the road to limit the risk from these reckless drivers.