Although many states throughout the nation have been abiding by stay-at-home orders during this time off pandemic–which has created clearer roads and lighter traffic in most areas–the National Safety Council has reported that the overall number of vehicle-related fatalities per miles driven has risen 14% in comparison to the same time frame in 2019.
This March, the number of motor vehicle deaths dropped by 8% compared to March of last year, while the number of miles driven declined by 19%. Still, the number of vehicle-related fatalities has increased, which the National Safety Council analyzed by taking into account deaths of anyone involved in motor vehicle-related accidents–drivers, passengers, cyclists, and pedestrians.
Additionally, the mileage death rate per 100 miles travelled was 1.22 in March 2020 versus 1.07 in March of 2019. Illinois is one of the states with the largest increases in roadway deaths for the first few months of 2020, with an 11% overall increase. Others include Connecticut at 42%, New York at 17%, and Arkansas at 16%.
“Disturbingly, we have open lanes of traffic and an apparent open season on reckless driving,” said president and CEO of NSC, Lorraine M. Martin. “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.”
This new data comes as a result of drivers behaving much more recklessly on the roads with the lack of traffic during the pandemic, and regional officials have been reporting upticks in local car crashes in many areas across the nation.
“What really strikes me is the incredible speed of the changes we’re seeing on roadways,” said manager of statistics at the NSC, Ken Kolosh. “Looking at other recessions, what you usually see is a decrease in the number of deaths, or the injuries and fatality rate holding steady or decreasing slightly.”
Kolosh explained that the changes in vehicle-related deaths have been unprecedented and unexpected.
“When we see the combination of both a dramatic decrease in the number of total deaths coupled with a dramatic increase in the fatality rate on our roads, that was very surprising,” he said.
The NSC also says there will need to be more analysis of the death rate increase to determine all factors that must be considered.
“Anecdotal reports indicate speeding, for example, has increased significantly since traffic diminished,” said the organization on its website. “Some states are also moving forward with ill-advised roadway tactics intended to address the COVID-19 pandemic but that could have far-reaching consequences.” Some of these consequences that the NSC listed are relaxing hours-of-service rules for commercial vehicle drivers and repealing requirements for young drivers to pass road tests before obtaining their driver’s licenses.
Additionally, the NSC explains that the 2% increase in roadway deaths in the first three months of 2020, as compared to the same time frame last year, reverses positive changes in death rates between 2018 and 2019. NSC estimates showed that after 40,000 roadway deaths over three consecutive years, fatalities finally plateaued in 2018 and dropped lower in 2019.
To keep drivers as safe as possible during this time, the NSC has some guidelines for all motorists:
-Obey speed limits, even when roads are clear.
-Practice defensive driving–stay buckled up, avoid driving while fatigued, avoid distractions, and always designate a sober driver or utilize alternative methods of transportation when needed.
-Stay off the roads when officials require you to do so–many states have asked drivers to only drive for essential errands or emergency situations.
-Stay aware of pedestrians and bicyclists, especially as many more travelers use walking and biking to safely leave their homes during shelter-in-place orders. Pedestrians and bikers should also keep in mind that clearer roadways does not mean there will be no traffic at all times, and should stay alert when crossing streets.
-For parents and guardians, stay engaged with your teen drivers’ habits and skills and continue to practice driving with them frequently.
-Companies and organizations should consider joining the Road to Zero Coalition, which aims to eliminate all roadway deaths by 2050.