By Logan Quirk
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed life as we know it in a variety of ways. Some of the changes it has wrought have altered the current condition of our roads, with recent studies indicating that fewer car crashes are taking place.
It would seem that a significant drop in the number of car crashes across the country would be a positive change, but it appears to be a double-edged sword that is also causing problems, as you’ll see later in this article.
A Noticeable Drop in Car Crashes
Concerns over contracting the coronavirus combined with shelter-in-place orders have led to a drastic reduction in the number of cars on the road. If you’ve driven in Southern California in the past few months, you’ve likely been greeted by deserted roads that would have seemed unheard of prior to the emergence of this pandemic.
The same thing is happening in other parts of the country.
To get a better sense of how significantly traffic has changed in California, researchers at UC Davis took a closer look at the available data.
Using data from both California Highway Patrol incident reports along with numbers provided by the Federal Highway Administration, the researchers determined that traffic volume dropped by more than 50 percent for select highways. More specifically, the numbers revealed that traffic volumes for certain highways have dropped by about 55 percent following the issuing of stay-at-home orders.
Fewer cars on the road equal fewer crashes are taking place.
To be more specific, the San Diego Tribune reports that between March 21 to April 11 of this year, the average number of traffic collisions that took place in the state of California ended up at 450. For the same stretch of time last year, the number stood at 1,128.
Fraser Shilling, the co-director of the Road Ecology Center at UC Davis, told the San Diego Tribune that the reduction in vehicular accidents can be “directly attributed” to the stay-at-home order issued by California Governor Gavin Newsom.
However, the previously linked site also points out that the decrease in car crashes was noticeable before the governor issued the order. That’s due to some locals coming out with their own shelter-in-place orders ahead of the governor.
How Car Crash Statistics Have Changed in Other States
Unsurprisingly, the change in the number of car crashes taking place has affected not only the state of California. Other states are also recording fewer accidents as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to keep drivers off the country’s different roads and highways.
CBS News contacted several states to inquire about how their statistics have changed since the start of the induced lockdowns. The site reports that at least 20 states have seen a noticeable drop in the number of fatal car accidents.
The state of Michigan noted that fatal car crashes there plummeted by 67 percent. Meanwhile, the state of Illinois reported a decrease of 57 percent.
A reduced number of deaths is undoubtedly a positive trend, but that’s not all there is to it.
The Economic Impact of Fewer Car Crashes Taking Place
More lives spared due to fewer accidents is a good thing, but there are other positives to note as well. In the state of California, the reduction in the number of car accidents is saving large amounts of money.
Shilling said that the savings from the lowered number of car accidents amounts to $40 million per day, $1 billion since the start of the stay-at-home order, and it could go to $15 billion if the trend sustains for an entire year.
Shilling went into greater detail regarding how he came up with those figures during an interview with Wired. According to Shilling, the $40 million per day estimate considers factors such as insurance claims, time a person would’ve lost at work due to being involved an accident, potential property damage, and above all else, the monetary value of human life.
As remarkable as the $40 million figure already is, it may still be a conservative estimate. He regards it as a “minimum” and believes that the actual numbers could be much higher.
The Downside to Emptier Roads
A lower number of crashes and more money saved are among the few silver linings we can attribute to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Still, that does not paint the entire picture of what is happening on our country’s roads and highways.
Even though we have fewer accidents in parts of the country, numbers indicate the roads may be more dangerous than before.
A report published by the National Safety Council (NSC) revealed there has been a noticeable spike in the year-over-year fatality rates per miles driven. In their report, the NSC revealed the mileage death rate per 100 million miles for March 2020 was 1.22. That’s a 14 percent increase over the 1.07 mark tallied for March 2019.
So, why has there been a jump in the fatality rates even though fewer people are taking to the roads these days? NSC President and CEO Lorraine Martin indicated that there is an “apparent open season on reckless driving” due to the availability and accessibility of wide-open roads.
Speeding is also a possible reason the roads have suddenly become more dangerous for drivers. This hypothesis meshes well with Shilling’s earlier findings. The study conducted by Shilling and the other researchers at UC Davis did find that the average and maximum traffic speeds increased by a few miles per hour on certain highways.
In addition to more people driving at high speeds and pushing the legal limits, the NSC also highlighted some changes enacted by local governments that may be impacting road safety. The NSC specifically pointed out the decision made by some states to repeal the requirements for teenage drivers to pass road safety tests prior to receiving a driver’s license as well as the changes made to the rules governing commercial vehicle drivers.
Shilling said the roads are safer today for pedestrians and cyclists due to fewer cars being on the road. However, if you are passing through highways and other roads where your fellow drivers may be breaking the law, you may be more vulnerable to a potential accident.
How to Stay Safe around Reckless Drivers
The allure of the open road is hard to resist for many drivers. As soon as they see that open stretch of asphalt in front of them, they get the urge to floor their vehicles and speed for as long as they can.
There’s a difference between driving fast and driving recklessly. Unfortunately, the statistics provided by the NSC would suggest that more people are practicing the latter during this pandemic. Understanding that, you now need to protect yourself better from reckless drivers.
Reviewing some defensive driving tips should help you out here.
Make Sure You Are in the Right Mindset to Drive
Before you even consider driving, you first need to evaluate yourself honestly and see if you are in any condition to take to the road. This isn’t about you having injuries or something like that. It’s also about what state of mind you’re in before deciding if you should get behind the wheel.
Obviously, if you’re drunk, there is no question that you should be kept as far away from the driver’s seat as possible. However, your state of mind could also be troubled in other ways.
Stress can also be a deterrent to safe driving. When you’re stressed out, concentrating on the road in front of you becomes a harder task. On top of that, you could also become more irritable when you’re feeling stressed, and that could lead to road rage incidents that turn ugly in a hurry.
Be safe and avoid the roads if you’re feeling overwhelmed by stress.
Don’t Imitate the Speeding Drivers
As soon as you see the other drivers around you blazing down the road, you may be overcome by an urge to join them. That’s a bad idea.
Speeding is never advisable since you give yourself such a small window of time to react if something unexpected pops up in the road in front of you. The streets may be emptier than they used to be, but that doesn’t mean that it’s completely devoid of everything.
Continue driving at the speed you’re comfortable at and maintain that for the duration of your drive. Given how few drivers are on the road, you should still reach your destination earlier without having to go over the speed limit.
Maintain Distance between Yourself and the Other Drivers
An underrated advantage of driving during this pandemic is that you have more space available. There’s no need to stick closely to the car in front of you or to switch lanes.
You should remember to make good use of that available space on the road.
If you see that certain drivers are going too fast and driving recklessly, move away from them. You can afford to do that now without slowing down.
Be Extra Careful When Driving in Bad Weather
It’s good advice, in general, to be careful on the road whenever it’s raining or snowing, but we should emphasize that point even more these days.
Think for a moment of what you could encounter on the road during this pandemic when the weather is poor. Having more drivers speeding is already a dangerous situation. Add to that some rain, and you have the makings of a potential disaster.
Even if those speedy drivers are keeping a close eye on the road, they may not save themselves from a crash if the roads provide no resistance.
As you would pre-pandemic, check the local weather report to see if a weather system could be coming in and try to see if it will still be safe enough for you to drive.
Should you decide to go out anyway, err on the side of caution and drive a bit slower than usual. That should give you a bigger window of opportunity to correct yourself in case something goes wrong while you’re on the rain-soaked roads.
Always Keep Your Eyes on the Road
The last tip to keep in mind when trying to steer clear of reckless drivers during this pandemic is to maintain focus on the road in front of you.
Under normal circumstances, some drivers can already be unpredictable and even dangerous. Now that they have the option of going wild on the road, they could take up that rare opportunity.
It’s more important than ever for you to concentrate on the road while you’re driving because other drivers could pose a greater threat.
Try to look down the road to see if there’s any trouble coming up, and don’t forget about the possibility of cars speeding beside you. If there’s anything near you that could be a cause for distraction, get rid of it.
You would be assuming that it’s safer to drive these days since more people are staying at home. As we now know, though, the emptier road doesn’t necessarily translate to it being safer.
Fewer car crashes are taking place due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic, but don’t take that to mean that you are safer than ever on roads and highways. In some ways, you could even argue that the roads are more dangerous.
Take care whenever you’re driving, and always be mindful of safety tips to avoid any accidents. If an accident does take place, please feel free to contact us at the Quirk Law Group as we will help you get through the legal ordeal that will likely follow.