Driving got more dangerous during pandemic lockdown, data show

The year 2020 has prompted all Americans to think about their own mortality. That’s primarily the result of a highly contagious and sometimes-deadly virus for which there is currently no cure or vaccine. Fear of Covid-19 even led to a nearly nationwide shutdown for about three months this spring, as everyone no doubt remembers.

There were only a few unintended benefits related to what’s commonly referred to as the “lockdown” period that went from April through June. One was a substantial decrease in road traffic, leading to reduced pollution and a reduction in traffic accident fatalities. But even this benefit came with a caveat. According to recently released data, there were fewer drivers on the road during the lockdown period, but many who continued to drive were driving much more dangerously than normal.

Preliminary data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that during the second quarter of this year, driving in the U.S. decreased by 26 percent compared to the same period in 2019. Traffic fatalities were also down, but not by a proportional amount. Second quarter traffic fatalities dropped by only 3.3 percent compared to last year.

When examining the rate of traffic deaths (defined as the number of deaths per 100 million miles traveled), the fatality rate actually skyrocketed during the second quarter. It was 30 percent higher, a rate than hasn’t been seen since 2005.

In short, driving was down, but the rate of traffic deaths was up. The NHTSA concluded that drivers were engaging in riskier behaviors during this period, including:

  • Speeding (including numerous cases of “extreme speeding”)
  • Driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs
  • Failing to wear a seat belt

One explanation is that many drivers believed that traffic enforcement was reduced during the lockdown period, leading them to believe they were at low risk for being caught breaking traffic laws. It’s unclear whether enforcement was actually down, but the belief nonetheless influenced behavior.

It is sad that during a time when life already seems fragile, some Americans would choose to take unnecessary risks with their own lives and the lives of others. If you or a loved one was significantly injured in a car accident during this time, a reckless driver may have been to blame. To learn more about your rights and legal options after an accident, contact our office for a free initial consultation.