New data released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration appears to show that three consecutive years of traffic death decreases may have come to a close as reckless and risky behavior overtook any potential gains in safety from having fewer cars on the nation’s roadways during the global coronavirus pandemic.
“As I’m sure you have noticed, our roads emptied out as people began staying at home, but we soon started hearing anecdotes about reckless driving with officers clocking drivers speeding in the triple digits,” said NHTSA deputy administrator James Owens. “Over the summer, we gathered data from our state partners and, unfortunately, the data confirmed some of the emerging trends we observed back in the spring.”
The data, at first glance, can be misleading because he raw numbers actually seem to indicate a decrease in the number of traffic fatalities and a continuation of the previous years’ safety gains. Such a conclusion, however, fails to take into account the significant decrease in miles the nation’s drivers actually travelled. When those numbers are scaled properly to account for the impact of stay-at-home orders brought about by the pandemic, estimates indicate that the second quarter of 2020 will have been more dangerous for drivers than other entire years’ worth of traveling.
In addition to an overall increase in speed, the NHTSA data indicates that fewer Americans were wearing their seatbelts, as well as doing more driving while under the influence of alcohol and other drugs. While the country has enjoyed year-over-year improvements across all of these safety factors in recent years, 2020 seems to indicate a significant backslide.
Deputy administrator Owens expressed concern. “We have never seen trends like this,” he says, “and we feel an urgency to work with our stakeholders to take action and turn this around as quickly as possible.”