One would think that fewer people on the country’s roads would make United States drivers safer, but it hasn’t. In fact, the opposite is true; driving has become noticeably more risky since March 2020. Since the virus appeared in the U.S., the rate of traffic accidents has steadily been increasing.
With so many people sick and dying this country has become a dangerous place. On top of the fear of being infected or giving the virus to others, we must also deal with anti-mask violence. The possibility of being involved in the increasing rate of car accidents is one more risk we bow face every time we leave the house.
There are fewer cars on the road now, and many drivers have been taking advantage of this situation by using it as an opportunity to break the rules of the road.
Since the pandemic started, I have almost been involved in collisions twice in my own neighborhood because drivers made right turns from the middle of the street instead of the right lane. They didn’t even check to see if a car was coming. It was as if they never in a million years thought they may be sharing the road.
Drivers may be tempted to speed, to run red lights and stop signs, or even to text or talk on the phone when they are driving when there isn’t a police car—or any other vehicle—in sight. That is one reason the rate of accidents has increased since the COVID-19 lockdowns have begun, but it’s not the only reason.
If there are fewer people on the roads, why have accidents increased? Frustration is a big piece of the puzzle. These are frustrating times, and a large portion of the American public is feeling isolated and insecure. There has been unprecedented job loss for about eight months, and there’s no end in sight. If anything, the virus is more serious than ever.
Strangely, reduced traffic is also partly to blame. In Los Angeles, the average speed on Interstate 405 at 5:00 p.m. before COVID-19 was 19 mph. After COVID-19, however, the average speed on the same road at the same time increased to 68 mph, which is an increase of more than 300%.
Still, the general rule is that as traffic gets increasingly busy, collision opportunities also increase. If people continue to let their frustration get the better of them while they’re driving, we can expect to see an increase in collisions and fatalities.
Driving Statistics: Pre- and Post-COVID-19
To develop a more thorough understanding of why accidents have skyrocketed, let’s take a look at some of the main causes of wrecks now in comparison to before the virus struck.
Speeding and Reckless Driving
According to the director of Minnesota’s Office of Traffic Safety, Michael Hanson, there has been an unprecedented surge in speeding and reckless driving since the onset of the pandemic. “We’re getting reports every week of people being cited for travelling over 100 miles an hour,” Hanson said. Hanson referred to this as “insanity” and pointed out that, although there was only about half the usual traffic, motor vehicle deaths in the state nearly doubled.
Minnesota isn’t a statistical outlier in this respect; motor vehicle accidents and deaths have increased all over the country. The Washington Post reported that state troopers in several states are issuing more speeding citations, many to drivers travelling in excess of 130 miles per hour.
Additionally, New York has seen a dramatic increase in traffic violations. According to U.S. News & World Report, automated traffic cameras issued almost 25,000 citations on March 27, 2020, which was almost twice as many as they issued a month prior, before the virus overtook the country.
Road rage is a strange phenomenon. It can turn the calmest, nicest people into absolute animals, and COVID-19 isn’t helping. According to a study the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety conducted in 2016, 80% of drivers polled admitted to engaging in some form of road rage. A surprising number of drivers admitted to things like:
- Intentionally tailgating (51%)
- Honking out of sheer anger (45%)
- Making angry gestures (33%)
- Attempting to block another vehicle from changing lanes (24%)
- Getting out of their vehicles to confront another driver (4%)
- Intentionally striking another vehicle (3%)
All things considered, this is really quite shocking. If this many people admitted to road rage behavior, how many people behaved this way and didn’t admit it? Probably plenty.
Keeping Yourself Safe on the Road
When it comes to driving, reaching your destination safely trumps all other considerations. You should practice defensive driving, wear your seat belt and follow the posted speed limits, regardless of how much or how little traffic is on the road.
Additionally, you should make sure not to antagonize other drivers, even if they’re at fault. An angry honk, a shout, or a dirty look might push someone over the edge, and the situation could quickly and unnecessarily escalate. It’s important during these trying times to understand that a lot of people are edgy and tense. If you can be the bigger person and avoid an incident, you should.
What to Do if You’re Involved in a Crash
If you’re involved in a vehicle accident and the other driver is at fault, you’ll need to take steps to protect your health and your potential legal claim. If it’s possible, be sure to put your mask on before you interact with any other drivers, passengers, or witnesses.
Use hand sanitizer if you exchange identification and insurance cards, or agree to show and read each other the cards without making contact with them. If someone is not wearing a mask and they refuse to, wait for the police to arrive and let them take their contact and insurance information for you.
The aftermath of an accident is always complex, and the arrival of COVID-19 has made it even more so. Whenever you get behind the wheel, make sure you have a mask and hand sanitizer with you. You may not be expecting to interact with anyone else, but an accident can change that in the blink of an eye.