Traffic Fatality Rate Spikes During Coronavirus Lockdowns, Even with Fewer Vehicles on the Road
The rate of traffic fatalities was up significantly during the first six months of 2020, even though there were far fewer vehicles on the road during the coronavirus lockdowns.
How Coronavirus Impacted Traffic Death Rates
According to a new report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), traffic volume declined by more than 16% in the first half of the year, primarily due to mandatory stay-at-home orders issued in many states to curb the spread of COVID-19. But while traffic deaths were down overall, the Board projected that the traffic fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles driven would actually increase to 1.25 in the first half of 2020, up from 1.06 in the same period in 2019.
“Road safety is always our top priority, and while we are encouraged by today’s reports showing a continued decline in total fatalities in 2019 and into the first half of 2020, we are concerned by the trend since April showing an increased fatality rate,” said NHTSA Deputy Administrator James Owens. “Now, more than ever, we should be watching ourselves for safe driving practices and encouraging others to do the same. It’s irresponsible and illegal to drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol, taking risks not only with one’s own life, but with the lives of others.”
More Drivers Have Engaged in Reckless Behavior During COVID-19
The second quarter of 2020 – when much of the country was locked down — saw traffic accident deaths decrease by just 3%. Unfortunately, it appears that the drivers who remained on the road during that period were more likely to engage in reckless behaviors that could easily result in a serious or fatal crash.
For example, another NHTSA study conducted at five participating trauma centers between mid-March and mid-July found that almost two-thirds of drivers tested positive for at least one active drug, including alcohol, marijuana, or opioids. Compared to the same period last year, the number of drivers testing positive for opioids nearly doubled, while marijuana use increased by about 50%. Meanwhile, the number of people who died and tested positive for alcohol went from 21.3% before March 16th to 26.9% during the COVID-19 public health emergency
When segmented by gender, males were more likely to test positive for alcohol, marijuana, and opioids than females. Positive rates were also higher on weekends than on weekdays.
While the report did not include exact data on seatbelt use, an increase in “ejection rates” led the NHTSA to infer a drop in usage. This increase was mostly observed in males, people 18 to 34 years old, and people in rural areas.
Police departments across the country also pulled back on enforcement during the coronavirus lockdowns, increasing the opportunities for drivers to speed.
Traffic Fatalities in Texas During Coronavirus Shutdown
The situation is much the same in Texas, where overall traffic accidents fell by a whopping 47% during April. But at the same time, deaths fell just 20%, suggesting the number of serious and deadly crashes actually rose during the Lone Star State’s COVID-19 shutdown.
As of September 23rd, the Texas Department of Transportation had already reported over 2,000 traffic fatalities. The state logged 3,610 total traffic fatalities for all of 2019.
According to the Texas A&M Center for Transportation Safety, between 40% and 50% of those deaths involved people who weren’t wearing a seatbelt. Speed also contributed to many of the traffic fatalities reported in Texas this year.
“The thing about speed is it’s an exponential function,” Center Director Robert Wunderlich recently told the Texas standard, “so that a 10% increase in speed can be over a 50% increase in severity, particularly in terms of fatal crashes.”
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