Can fewer cars on the road actually make the roads more dangerous? Yes – the statistics are showing that while the number of car accidents were down due to the COVID-19 related quarantines, the rates of crashes – including the injury rates and car crash fatalities – were on the rise. The reason appeared to be a lack of traffic jams.
During the COVID-19 shutdowns, the streets in and surrounding our largest cities, usually jam-packed with cars during rush hours, were nearly empty. The pictures of empty highways were reminiscent of scenes from an apocalyptic Hollywood movie. The traffic jams of old had given way to wide open roads. However, with less cars on the road, many drivers were driving faster and this is leading to more severe crashes.
The data seems to indicate that while increased traffic congestion and traffic jams lead to more accidents, the severity of crashes is lessened because speeds are reduced. Since drivers could drive faster on the open roads, the data shows an increase in crash severity and fatalities.
In New York City, the number of vehicle miles driven between March 2 and April 8 of this year dropped 84% compared to 2019 according to data provided by StreetLight. However, that same period has resulted in more crash fatalities than the same period in four of the last five years. With less congested streets, speeding tickets issued by speed cameras in New York’s school zones increased by 36% in the days after New York City enacted its quarantine. However, there was also a dramatic decrease in the amount of speeding tickets issued by New York police officers. Speed was a likely explanation for the increase in traffic fatalities given the open streets and reduced police presence.
Rural areas have also seen a dramatic increase in fatalities. In Minnesota, the number of car crashes and crash fatalities have more than doubled. According to the Minnesota Office of Traffic Safety, there were 24 crashes and 28 fatalities between March 16 and April 7 this year, compared to just 12 crashes and 13 fatalities the year prior. This 115% increase in fatalities comes at a time when the Minnesota Office of Traffic Safety reports that traffic volume dropped 47%.
New York and Minnesota are not alone, however. Similar increases in traffic fatalities despite fewer crashes are being reported in Texas and Massachusetts as well.
Locally, the data provided by StreetLight, shows that traffic volume in Hunterdon, Somerset and Middlesex Counties had dropped between 87% and 90%. However, with Route 78, Route 287 and the Turnpike cutting through those counties, driving speed was likely to increase. If the data from across the country is any indication, New Jersey may have also seen a rise in traffic fatalities due to speed.
Car Crash Fatalities: Your Legal Partners at RAM Law
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