Increase in Traffic Deaths Since Pandemic

Increase in Traffic Deaths Since Pandemic

~M. Ernat

According to NY Times reporter, David Leonhardt, “the United States is currently enduring its most severe increase in traffic deaths since the 1940’s”. This is an unusual statistic. Vehicle improvements, lower speed limits and declines in drunk driving have overall caused deaths from vehicle crashes to decline since the late 1960’s. By 2019, according to Leonhardt, “the annual death rate from crashes was near its lowest level since cars became a mass item in the 1920s”.

So, what happened? The Covid-19 pandemic happened.

Most traffic experts predicted a decline in crashes and deaths when the pandemic began, citing mostly empty roadways. However, crashes and deaths bean surging in the summer of 2020. This was attributed mostly to an increase in aggressive driving, and then crashes continued to increase later in the pandemic when more people returned to leaving their homes and driving.

When looked at per capita, vehicle deaths were 17.5% higher between summer 2019 and summer 2021. This turned out to be the largest two-year increase since just after WWII. It seems people were more frustrated and angry overall, and that resulted in an increase in violent crime, customer abuse of workers, student misbehavior in school, and vehicle crashes.

One law enforcement official, Albuquerque, New Mexico’s police chief, said “we’re seeing erratic behavior in the way people are acting and their patience levels….it’s as if everybody’s been pushed to their limits, and this is one of the most stressful times in memory”.

The U.S. Department of Transportation reported that “the proportion of drivers testing positive for opioids nearly doubled after mid-March 202, compared to the previous 6 months, while marijuana prevalence increased by about 50 percent). That being said, it appears an increase in drug abuse during the pandemic may have played a critical role in this as well.

Some argue that trends in the auto industry counteract each other. For example, improved technology and safety features might reduce t5raffic deaths, but the growing size of vehicles on the road, and the increase in distracted driving often lead to more deaths.

We’ve all, for the most part, spent the last two plus years holding ourselves back….mandated by policy to not do many of the things we would have liked to have done, forced to alter our “normal” into a “new normal” – and this forced shift in our daily routines left a lot of pent up energy, which had to go somewhere, and for some, the release of that energy happened once we got behind the wheel.

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