While traffic is generally down across the country due to the coronavirus lockdown, the number of fatalities has risen sharply. For instance in New York the traffic fatality rate has climbed 17% during this period. Connecticut has witnessed a shocking 42% increase in traffic deaths.
“COVID has brought a whole new set of circumstances to those of us in the highway safety industry,” Michael Hanson, director of the Minnesota Office of Traffic Safety, told Newsy. “What really alarmed us in the two weeks following our stay at home order ... we experienced twice as many fatalities in 2020 than we have in any year going back to about 2015.”
Anecdotal reports indicate that speeding, for example has increased significantly since traffic has lessened. Some states are approving “ill-advised” roadway tactics intended to respond to the pandemic, but many might have bad consequences. For example, many states are repealing requirements for teen drivers to pass road tests before acquiring licenses and relaxing hours of service rules for commercial vehicle drivers.
“We’re now seeing, literally on a weekly basis, dozens of drivers who are being stopped and cited for traveling more than 100 miles an hour,” Hanson said.
Just because there is less traffic on the roadway does not mean drivers should be less vigilant or less aware of potential hazards. Less traffic is not a license to drive over the speed limit, especially not at rates that the Director of Minnesota’s Office of Traffic Safety notes.
The pandemic has been linked to a number of negative outcomes such as higher suicide rates, an increase in domestic violence. Now, it seems clear that traffic fatalities can be mentioned as one of the negative consequences of the pandemic.
It is important to consider the potential psychological effects of the pandemic including anxiety, restlessness, depression, and irritability, all of which can contribute to unsafe driving. Road rage should also be mentioned since it is a significant factor in some of these high-speed fatalities.
“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.”
To help ensure safer roads, especially during the pandemic, NSC urges people to do the following on the road:
- 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 safely during quarantine; conversely, pedestrians and bicyclists should remember that reduced traffic does not mean no traffic, and 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, and 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 are encouraged to join the Road to Zero Coalition, a 1,500-member group committed to eliminating roadway deaths by 2050
The coronavirus has caused enough suffering. We don’t need to add to it needlessly by driving recklessly or carelessly. If you are suffering from any of the aforementioned psychological effects of the pandemic, perhaps it’s better to forego driving. Lives are at stake, including your own.