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Highway Safety Trends

This year has seen an increase in the rates of speeding and inebriated driving, both of which contributed to an alarming year for traffic safety. However, with fewer people dying this year from car accidents compared to the last, it may appear as though highway safety has improved in 2020. Given the complications and lockdowns that came with Covid-19, however, fewer people were driving this year. But there are actually higher accident rates for those who did.

Increase in Speeding

Reminders of Covid-19 can be seen every time a person looks through the car window. With this new disease putting the American public on lockdown, the roads have become far more empty than they were in previous years. This period of nationwide quarantine has helped minimize traffic fatalities. According to projections made by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the total number of lives lost from traffic crashes in the second quarter of 2020 was down 3.3% over 2019, which means 302 fewer deaths overall.

However, anecdotal reporting made to NHTSA suggests that more and more people are getting pulled over for speeding or driving too fast for conditions. With the roads sparse, the remaining speed demons have felt free to break speed limit laws. NHTSA has tried to combat this behavior with campaigns reminding people to obey the speed limit, but there is no available data to show any improvement.

Increase in Inebriated Driving

According to the Center for Disease Control, on average, approximately 29 people in the United States have died in motor vehicle crashes related to drunk driving each day. Simply put, the stress and strain of being under quarantine have created what NHTSA asserts is an alarming increase in instances of people driving under the influence.

NHTSA began a study researching the presence of drugs and alcohol in fatal or almost fatal crashes earlier this year. The study presented the opportunity to compare data from before and after the country was put under quarantine. It was discovered that there was an increase in drivers under the influence of alcohol or drugs since lockdowns began in mid-March.

James Owens, NHTSA’s Deputy Administrator, said, “We’ve never seen trends like this, and we feel an urgency to work with our stakeholders to take action and turn this around as quickly as possible.”

Higher Rates of Death

Due to the restrictions the COVID-19 pandemic put on the public, 2020’s second-quarter traffic volume declined 26%. The number of deaths declined as well, however, the fatality rate per 100 million went up 1.42%. This goes to show that the country is experiencing more deaths on the road than NHTSA could have expected.

Pedestrians have historically seen the worst of the increase. NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System findings revealed that 17% of all traffic fatalities last year involved pedestrians. Combatting this horrifying metric, the U.S. Department of Transportation released a Pedestrian Safety Action Plan in November.

Federal Highway Administration Administrator Nicole R. Nason said, “Reducing pedestrian fatalities is a team effort that requires collaboration between federal, state, and local transportation leaders. We need safer roads and this plan provides a road map to get us there.”

Fighting “The New Normal”

What is seen now on the open road is another example of “The New Normal” taking root. With all of the changes COVID-19 has put on individuals and institutions of this country, it is no surprise that traffic foundations would struggle under the strain. Roads that were built to accommodate hundreds of cars are now trails where few are able to drive freely and recklessly. Though the administrators in traffic bureaucracy are working to change the tides, pedestrians should be aware that quieter roads are not necessarily safer.