Personal injuries occur much too frequently in motor vehicle collisions; motor vehicle occupants and pedestrians can sustain debilitating and fatal injuries. Generally speaking, when there is more vehicle traffic, studies suggest that the rate of car accidents increases. Accordingly, when there are fewer vehicles on the road, the overall rate of car crashes should decrease. However, it is important to keep in mind that the overall rate of car accidents is not the same thing as the overall rate of serious and fatal collisions. While a greater amount of vehicle traffic might lead to an increase in wrecks, many of those accidents are minor and do not involve personal injuries. Has all of this changed during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Since the pandemic resulted in stay-at-home orders and many more Americans working from home, vehicle traffic decreased. However, as an article in Forbes explains, vehicle fatalities have actually increased.
Less Traffic but Deadlier Accidents
The Forbes article cites recent studies that have analyzed traffic patterns, car crashes, and vehicle deaths since the pandemic began. Researchers determined that overall vehicle traffic decreased substantially—by about 16%. From the beginning of the pandemic and the institution of stay-at-home orders across the country, fewer Americans have been driving to work, and fewer people have been running errands or taking trips by car more generally. Even as stay-at-home orders eased in the early summer, many employers shifted their workplace protocols so that people could continue to work from home, thereby reducing the number of vehicles on the road.
However, during the same time period, the number of traffic fatalities rose. Researchers cite increasingly dangerous driving behaviors as the cause for the increase in car accident deaths. To be sure, traffic fatalities rates in the U.S. have risen by 30% since the start of the pandemic. Those deaths include vehicle occupants, cyclists, and pedestrians.
Dangerous Driving Behaviors Cause Traffic Fatality Spike
The rising number of deaths, despite lower traffic rates, is linked to dangerous driving behaviors. Excessive or extreme speeding is one of the most commonly cited reasons for the increased number of fatal accidents, which refers to speeding at more than 30 miles per hour beyond the posted speed limit. Motorists are also engaging in other risky driving behaviors—some as a result of pandemic stresses—such as increased alcohol consumption and aggressive driving.
Cyclists are also defying safety rules, failing to wear helmets or to signal appropriately in order to prevent a collision with a motor vehicle. It is not just motorists who are consuming more alcohol during the pandemic and causing alcohol-related collisions. Cyclists and pedestrians, too, are suffering serious injuries in collisions as a result of their own alcohol consumption.
The key message that everyone should take away is that riskier behaviors on the road are resulting in more traffic fatalities. These crashes are entirely preventable. Yet the anxieties surrounding the pandemic, from health concerns to job losses, suggest that we may not see a drop in traffic fatalities until the pandemic eases.