Traffic fatalities are way down during the pandemic, but reckless driving has rapidly increased

In the United States, COVID-19 has had an unexpected side effect: an increase in speeding and dangerous behavior on roads across the country.

The Governors Highway Safety Association reported in mid-April about a surge in speed-related crashes and fatalities due to a dramatic increase in reckless driving. Although transportation data firm Inrix reports that traffic nationwide is down 41% during the pandemic, traffic accidents have only dropped 21%. 

Michael Hanson, director of the Office of Traffic Safety in Minnesota, told the Washington Post the state reported 42 people killed in traffic collisions in the first 45 days of the state’s stay-at-home that started March 16. 

“We’re getting reports every week of dozens of drivers being cited for traveling over 100 mph,” he said. “We have had half the traffic and twice as many fatalities.”

The report published by the GHSA shows Minnesota isn’t the only state with a surge in speeds—it’s all over the country. Examples of reckless driving around the U.S. in the report included: 

In Colorado, Indiana, Nebraska, and Utah, police have clocked highway speeds of over 100 mph.

State police in Florida and Iowa are reporting drivers going 20-40 miles over the posted speed limit.

In New York City, despite far fewer vehicles on the road, the city’s automated speed cameras issued 24,765 speeding tickets citywide on March 27, or nearly double the 12,672 tickets issued daily a month earlier. In Los Angeles, speeds are up by as much as 30% on some streets, prompting changes to traffic lights and pedestrian walk signals.

Some states are finding reduced crash rates but more serious crashes. In Massachusetts, the fatality rate for car crashes is rising, and in Nevada and Rhode Island, state officials note pedestrian fatalities are rising.

In Minnesota, motor vehicle crashes and fatalities have more than doubled compared to the same time period in previous years. Half those deaths were related to speeding or to careless or negligent driving. 

In addition to increased speeding, data analytics company Zendrive found motorists are using their phones more while driving. Phone usage while on the road is up 38%. The same study shows that drivers are speeding 27% more and hard-braking 25% more. 

“With the increased desire to stay informed about the evolving circumstances and the well-being of loved ones, people are interacting with their phones more than ever,” the study says. “As a result, phone usage while driving has increased dramatically.” 

GHSA Executive Director Jonathan Adkins told the Washington Post that drivers are becoming more reckless as they believe they can get away with it during a pandemic. They may think the police are not prioritizing traffic stops or are aware that some police departments are operating with limited resources. 

Adkins said in the GHSA report that it’s extra important to follow safety laws in place during a pandemic. He said because pedestrian and bicycle traffic have increased exponentially, drivers need to be more careful. 

“Law enforcement officials have the same mission as health care providers—to save lives,” he said. “If you must drive, buckle up, follow the posted speed limit and look out for pedestrians and bicyclists. Emergency rooms in many areas of the country are at capacity, and the last thing they need is additional strain from traffic crash victims.”

Sources: Governors Highway Safety Association, Washington Post, ZenDrive

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