One of the strangest, if not counter-intuitive, phenomena coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic was the increase in motor vehicle accidents during a time when significantly fewer vehicles were on the road. Instead of safe driving, many drivers saw the lack of other cars and trucks sharing the road as an opportunity to drive recklessly and at excessive speeds.
Those fatalities occurred in the shadows of continuing lockdowns and sheltering at home orders in a tragic form of rebellion. In 2020, accidents grew by more than seven percent, while traffic plummeted 13 percent. Ushering in 2021 saw an 18 percent increase during the first six months alone.
Tens of thousands of fatalities
The combination saw nearly 40,000 people lose their lives on roads throughout the U.S., breaking a record set in 2007. Prior to the pandemic, roads were seeing steady improvements for decades due to, in part, seatbelt laws, the advent of airbags, and cutting-edge safety features. Fatalities continued to decrease, even as speed limits and the number of cars increased. From 1970 to 2019, fatalities fell from 55,000 in 1970 to approximately 36,000 in 2019.
California’s road fatalities in 2020 grew by five percent. The Highway Patrols cited more than 28,000 drivers for traveling at 100 mph, representing a 100 percent increase. Reckless driving grew by 150 percent, with the number likely to increase.
While roadways returned to a sense of normalcy in traffic patterns, the unsafe driving habits have seemingly become engrained with many drivers who continue to drive recklessly. Driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol continues. Many believe that it is a continuing result of the frustration that comes with isolation and depression.
The continuing flow of dire, “gloom and doom” news reports shifted priorities, not in a good way. Meanwhile, alcohol sales skyrocketed, and drug overdoses continue to break records.
With another variant raging nationwide, more drivers feeling cooped up, lonely, or angry may still take to the roads to vent their frustrations. Blowing off steam will likely have even more deadly consequences.