Despite the fact that traffic volume hasn’t increased over pre-pandemic levels, car accidents are killing an increasing number of individuals since the pandemic began.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said this week that the number of fatalities from auto accidents in the first few months of this year reached the highest quarterly total since 2002.
The first quarter of 2021 saw an increase in traffic fatalities, and the number of auto fatalities in 2017 had already reached a 15-year high.
In the three years preceding up to 2020, the number of fatal car accidents in the U.S. decreased, reversing the pre-pandemic trend.
But after that, the number started to rise even though people drove less in 2020 and traffic volume in 2021 were around the same as in 2019.
The 2022 traffic deaths reflect a 22% increase from the first quarter of 2019.
However, according to Arthur Goodwin, a senior research associate at the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center, “we hoped that was just some unique blip owing to the epidemic.”
Goodwin and other traffic safety experts credit the spike in risky driving to a decrease in seatbelt use as well as an increase in speeding and drunk driving, among other things.
Risky driving habits “were amplified during the epidemic, and they seem to have this hangover effect that’s currently occurring,” Insurance Institute for Highway Safety president David Harkey said.
Following a car’s off-road excursion and collision with a tree, three Indiana State University students perished in a collision on Sunday.
Six people were murdered this month in a multi-vehicle collision in Los Angeles, including a pregnant mother and a 3-year-old toddler. District Attorney for Los Angeles County George Gascn claimed one of the cars went through a red light at a speed of more than 90 mph.
Five of the seven fatalities in a catastrophic incident a few days earlier in Hampshire, Illinois were youngsters.
Additionally killed in wrecks last month were the actor Anne Heche and Republican Rep. Jackie Walorski of Indiana.
WHY ARE PEOPLE DRIVING RISKIER?
According to a study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, people who drove more frequently during the pandemic were more likely to engage in riskier behaviors, such as texting while driving, speeding, purposefully running red lights, lane-changing aggressively, not using seatbelts, and driving after consuming alcohol or cannabis.
If a person is speeding or without wearing a seat belt, a deadly crash is considerably more likely, according to Goodwin.
deaths from speeding-related crashes increased by 17% and fatalities from drunk driving increased by 14% in 2020 compared to 2019.
Open motorways during the epidemic may have enticed drivers to drive more quickly, according to researchers. Additionally, they cited a paucity of law enforcement on the road that was partly caused by concerns over Covid safety and racial stereotyping. (Drivers of color are far more likely to be stopped and searched than those of whites.)
During the pandemic, there was a worry about not stopping drivers and avoiding personal contact, according to Harkey.
Nearly 60% of police officers who participated in an survey last year of more than 1,000 policemen and deputies claimed they were less likely to stop cars now than they were in 2020. As of 2019, there were fell by 37% from 2019 to 2020 documented traffic stops in Illinois, continuing a trend that began in 2015. 40% fewer cars were stopped in 2020 in Vermont as opposed to 2019.
Law enforcement, according to Goodwin, has “very much recovered to where it was before the pandemic,” but he posited that some drivers might still believe they can speed and participate in other potentially dangerous activities without being caught.
The trend has already lasted longer than we anticipated, he continued, so it’s difficult to predict how long it will last.
Goodwin also pointed out that, despite expectations, there were fewer car accidents overall between 2019 and 2020. The number of individuals injured on roads reduced by 17%, according to police-reported crashes fell by 22% in that time (the most recent data available), and the Transportation Department.
MINORS COULD BE TALKING ON THEIR PHONE AT THE WHEEL
Cara Hamann, an assistant professor of epidemiology and an expert on transportation safety at the University of Iowa College of Public Health, identified another well-known element that may have contributed to the surge in traffic fatalities: cell phones.
Everyone gets distracted while driving and looking at their phones, according to Hamann. “Basically, it’s a recipe for tragedy.”
According to her, this includes texting or even watching videos while driving for young drivers.
Younger drivers are often considered to be a bit riskier as a group, according to Goodwin.
According to data from the Transportation Department, from 2019 to 2020, there was a roughly 10% decline in the proportion of elderly drivers (those 65 and older) involved in fatal collisions.
According to Goodwin, “that’s presumably because there weren’t as many senior drivers on the road, and they’ve been slower to return.”
WHAT IS POSSIBLE?
Holding drivers responsible for breaching the law is one of the simplest methods to lower road fatalities, according to Goodwin.
To make sure that drivers are aware that cops are out on the highways looking for intoxicated drivers, drivers who are not wearing seat belts, and drivers who are speeding, he added, “we really need to restart law enforcement activities.”
According to experts, redesigning the roads and cars could help reduce speeding.
According to Hamann, numerous roads allow drivers to exceed the posted speed limit.
Perhaps the posted speed limit is 25 or 30, but she added that it was simple to feel secure traveling at 40 or 50. “That needs to be rectified because it’s an engineering or design issue.”
She suggested that the issue might be solved by constructing roundabouts, speed bumps, or automated cameras that record traffic infractions.
This year, the Transportation Department established a $5 billion program to reduce fatalities and injuries on the roads by awarding funding for initiatives that reduce speed limits or enhance road layout.
Harkey said that vehicle features like seat belt reminders, automated emergency braking, and lesser horsepower may help promote safer driving.
He claimed that “vehicle horsepower has altered through time and has increased.” More horsepower translates into faster driving.
Experts are concerned that risky driving has replaced the old standard.
The patterns, according to Goodwin, are extremely alarming. We must resolve this issue immediately in order to reverse these tendencies.