I hate to be the bearer of bad news, especially now. But there’s a troubling trend that needs a little more attention so we can all get it under control. Somewhat counterintuitively, while the pandemic has reduced traffic on roads, traffic accidents, especially fatal ones, have increased to an alarming degree.
This phenomenon isn’t isolated to one corner of the country, either. It’s everywhere. According to the Star Tribune, while traffic in Minnesota dropped sharply with the commencement of stay at home orders, the number of fatalities skyrocketed. Missouri, just to stick with M-name states, experienced much the same, with an estimated 50% reduction in traffic and a 15% increase in automotive fatalities. State after state tells the same story. According to the National Safety Council, fatal accidents increased by a chilling 14% at the same time as more people were staying home.
It’s probably not that hard to guess why this is happening. After all, in this very space, I talked about how the Cannonball Run record had been utterly shattered thanks to the unique conditions on the road. While your average motorist and an illegal street racer are on the opposite ends of a spectrum, they are still on that spectrum. A street racer and a commuter see empty roads, and they both might drive a little faster.
“A little faster” is underselling it. According to the Washington Post, average speeds have increased a whopping 250% in some parts of the country. Urban areas that are normally congested are seeing the biggest shifts, with residents speeding along avenues that in a normal year would be clogged with traffic.
Speeding isn’t the only culprit. The same Washington Post article stated that 40% more drivers are using their cellphones while driving and hard braking is up 25%. The cause could be attributed to the same empty roads that invite speeding. It could also be that increased time at home has led to increased screen time which doesn’t stop when drivers get behind the wheel.
Drivers are more comfortable taking risks during the pandemic, whether it’s sharper turning, not wearing seatbelts, or driving under the influence. Risky behaviors in addition to distractions and speeding are up. Whether this is due to empty roads or stressed out people in isolation looking to let off some steam, the effect is the same: people are dying on the roads.
Driving a car is one of the most dangerous things we do in our everyday lives, both for ourselves and to others. It’s our responsibility to take it seriously. So, I’m asking everyone to stick to the speed limits, put down the phone, and drive like your kid is the car with you. Or your cat, whichever one of those you happen to have. And to those of you who already are, thank you. Let’s all take care on the roads.