Fewer Car Accidents, More Fatalities – How COVID-19 is Affecting Driving Habits
The coronavirus pandemic has changed the world as we know it. With many businesses restricted and a large portion of the population working from home, the roads have been freer than ever. The general assumption was that with the decrease in traffic would come a decrease in car accidents, and therefore a drop in traffic fatalities as well. Unfortunately, despite there being fewer drivers on the road, the nationwide traffic death toll has continued on unabated, even increasing in some areas.
Though the overall number of traffic deaths from car accidents in the nation has decreased, the percentage of these car accidents resulting in a fatality has increased significantly. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that the fatality rate jumped from 1.10 to 1.42 deaths per 100 million miles traveled during the second quarter of the year. This is the highest national fatality rate since 2006; although third-quarter statistics have not yet been finalized, if the numbers keep trending in this direction, the fatality rate for 2020 as a whole may reach even greater heights. This is a nationwide issue; multiple states including Texas, Louisiana, California, and New York have recorded an increase in traffic fatalities during the stay-at-home order, despite there being fewer cars on the road.
Speeding a Major Culprit
While the number of traffic deaths across the nation did fall during the lockdown, safety experts note that the percentage of these car accidents ending with a fatality spiked. They cited that this was due to changing driving habits; more and more drivers were participating in unsafe driving practices, making the car accidents that did occur much more likely to have fatal consequences. A study done by the NHTSA showed that the drivers who have remained on the roads have been engaging in “more risky behavior, including speeding, failing to wear seat belts, and driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.”
Speeding is one of the main influences of this data. NPR reported that cars are driving faster overall, which could be due to the emptier roads as well as the road-trip boom that has taken place since the start of the pandemic. With fewer cars on the road, there is a lot less of the start-stop traffic that Houston is infamous for. While that’s decreased smaller fender benders, it’s also freed up the roads for people to speed, leading to an uptick in fatal car accidents. The Wall Street Journal reported that though Houston saw a 46% decrease in vehicle miles driven, driver speed has skyrocketed, with drivers going about 16% faster than usual during morning rush hour and 39% faster at evening rush hour.
Other Unsafe Driving Habits
While speeding is a major issue, it is not the only believed cause of the spike in roadway deaths. Another factor is substance abuse. With bars closed, the assumption was that the number of DWIs would decrease as well; however, that has not been the case. Houston Police Sergeant Don Egdorf said that “the DWI numbers are still up,” with the amount of DWI arrests remaining steady from the year before despite the bar closures.
Safety experts also reported that when surveyed, a quarter of adults reported an increase in their alcohol intake since the start of the pandemic, while 6% of users reported that they were using more cannabis. When questioned, the survey participants cited boredom, stress, and the lack of a schedule as reasoning for the increase in substance use. The NHTSA notes that since the start of the pandemic, certain traffic laws may not be being enforced as strongly as they were pre-COVID. In their report, they stated that it is “possible that drivers’ perception that they may be caught breaking a law was reduced.”
Furthermore, safety experts note that the increase in unsafe driving habits could be in part due to who is on the road. Older populations, who are generally more risk-averse drivers, are more likely to be off the roads throughout the pandemic due to the increased risk of contracting the virus.
The trucking industry is another major factor. Long-haul truck drivers had been struggling to find parking spots long before coronavirus hit; with the boom of online sales and urgent need to transport medical supplies, however, this issue has been exacerbated as the number of trucks on the road has only increased. Adding unsafe motorists into the mix has increased the likelihood of car accidents.
What Should I Do If I’ve Been Hurt In A Car Accident?
Safety experts fear that drivers will continue with these unsafe driving practices post-pandemic. With restrictions being lifted and more and more people returning to the roads daily, the worry is that roadway fatalities will remain on the rise long after the coronavirus pandemic is over.
Car Accidents can involve complicated questions of liability, insurance coverage, medical treatment and more. If you or a loved one has been injured in a collision, contact The Callahan Law Firm for a free consultation. Our dedicated attorneys have been representing people injured in car accidents for over 25 years, and they stand ready to help you and your family get justice.