Did COVID-19 cause a spike in traffic fatalities? | Allen and Allen

Did COVID-19 cause a spike in traffic fatalities?

Recent data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration paints a grim picture of traffic safety on our nation’s roads.

firefighters helping a driver after a car accident

More than 9,500 people were killed in traffic crashes in the first three months of 2022. This is the deadliest start to a year on U.S. roads in two decades. Deaths nationwide were up 7% from the same time last year.

For the mid-Atlantic region, including Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, and D.C., estimated traffic deaths for the first quarter were up 52% from the first quarter of 2021. Statewide, Virginia is estimated to have an increase in fatalities of an astounding 71.8%.

What is behind this shocking rise in traffic deaths?

Experts do not have an easy answer about the cause of this rise. Given COVID-19 quarantines, closures, and the fact that fewer people were on the road, it was expected that the number of deaths would decrease. However, officials believe that the very fact that the roads have been less congested may lead to faster driving and more risk-taking:

“When everyday life came to a halt in March 2020, risky behavior skyrocketed and traffic fatalities spiked,” said Steven Cliff, head of NHTSA. Officials also point to evidence of more reckless behavior, including failing to wear seat belts and driving impaired.

What is being done to make our roadways safer?

Last year’s infrastructure law included billions of new safety funding for the entire United States, including:

  • $5 billion to protect cyclists and pedestrians
  • Repairing bridges and other infrastructure
  • The government is launching anti-drunk driving advertisements and other campaigns aimed at safety measures.
  • Technology mandates, like requiring new cars to be equipped with breath alcohol monitors are still years away.

girl strapped in to a car with her golden retriever

What can you do to keep yourself and your family safe?

First, and most obviously, take advantage of your vehicle’s own safety features.  Always wear your seat belt. Seat belts save thousands of lives each year. Make sure that your infants and toddlers are in properly-fitted car seats and booster seats.

Second, reduce your chances of engaging in risky behavior:

Speeding safety tips:

Observe the speed limits. In 2020, there were 11,258 speeding-related deaths.

Speeding not only endangers the speeder but endangers those around them as well. Use these tips when encountering speeders on the road:

  • If you are in the left lane and someone wants to pass, move over and let them by.
  • Give speeding drivers plenty of space. Speeding drivers may lose control of their vehicles more easily.
  • Adjust your driving accordingly. Speeding is tied to aggressive driving. If a speeding driver is tailgating you or trying to engage you in risky driving, use judgment to safely steer your vehicle out of the way.
  • Call the police if you believe a driver is following you or harassing you.

female driver taking a breathalyzer test

Drunk or impaired driving:

Given all that we know about drunk or impaired driving, no one needs a reminder that driving drunk is a danger to everyone on the roads. Every day, about 32 people in the United States die in drunk-driving crashes — that’s one person every 45 minutes. In 2020, 11,654 people died in alcohol-impaired traffic deaths — a 14% increase from 2019.

Drowsy Driving:

While we all know to avoid driving when drowsy, what do you do if you are on the road and find yourself having trouble staying awake or alert?  Here are some tips from the NHTSA for short-term interventions:

  1. Drinking coffee or energy drinks alone is not always enough. They might help you feel more alert, but the effects last only a short time, and you might not be as alert as you think you are. If you drink coffee and are seriously sleep-deprived, you still may have “micro sleeps” or brief losses of consciousness that can last for four or five seconds. This means that at 55 miles per hour, you’ve traveled more than 100 yards down the road while asleep. That’s plenty of time to cause a crash.
  2. If you start to get sleepy while you’re driving, drink one to two cups of coffee and pull over for a short 20-minute nap in a safe place, such as a lighted, designated rest stop. This has been shown to increase alertness in scientific studies, but only for short time periods.

speeding car

Distracted Driving:

We have all seen other drivers texting while driving, but these are not the only distractions that can create dangerous driving. Unfortunately, there are no magic formulas for preventing distracted driving in this social media-driven age.

Many states have enacted laws to punish drivers who text or talk on the phone while driving. Virginia bans texting while driving and driving while using a hand-held device. But more needs to be done. Law enforcement cannot stop all distracted driving.

How to normalize driving without distractions

  • Parents need to model the behavior for their teens learning to drive.
  • Passengers need to demand that their drivers put their phones down and focus on the road.

An extra safety precaution would be to increase your insurance limits, if possible. Allen & Allen has provided helpful details about this option, right here.

If you or a loved one have been injured in an accident that occurred through no fault of your own, the lawyers at Allen & Allen are there to help. Call today for a free consultation at 866-388-1307.