Amid Coronavirus “Stay Home” Orders, Higher Speed Driving May Increase Severity of Accidents

Government “stay home” orders issued to stop the spread of COVID-19 are thinning out traffic on U.S. roadways, but a new report indicates vehicles still being driven are traveling at much higher speeds, which may increase the risk and severity of auto accidents during the coronavirus pandemic.

The analytics company INRIX, which specializes in roadway behavior, released a new study showing the average speed of traffic on major highways has increased by as much as 75% in recent weeks, as the volume of traffic has dropped dramatically nationwide. The firm warns that the higher speeds could lead to deadlier crashes and more serious injuries.

Researchers evaluated transportation data from January 1, 2020 through the first week of April to determine the difference in driving behavior for those still traveling on less crowded roadways.  The study looked at several major cities in the United States, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington and Detroit.

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The coronavirus traffic study discovered a drop in vehicle miles traveled, but drivers are increasing the average driving speed. In the major cities studied, the average vehicle miles traveled have decreased by upward of 80% following the state stay at home orders. However, travel speeds on interstate highways, state highways and expressways in the first week of April were as much as 75% higher than in January and February 2020.

New York City transportation officials reported more than a 60% increase in the amount of speeding tickets issued by speed camera traps in March, when compared to a year earlier. According to the preliminary data for April, officials anticipate that percentage to increase.

In Washington D.C. StreetLight Data recorded a 20% increase of speed camera tickets issued in March alone. Included in those violations, researchers found the amount of drivers violating speed limits by going 21-25 mph over the limit increased by nearly 40%.

Some cities such as Los Angeles have taken to social media to urge drivers to slow down. The California Highway Patrol officials in Los Angeles posted on Twitter for drivers to slow down by posting images of rollover crashes and wrecked vehicles due to speeding on a nearly daily basis.

The Los Angeles Police Department has also announced they will be deploying a high-speed task force to position officers to catch high-speed travel zones.

The data suggests that although roadways are being significantly less traveled, they may be less safe to travel with people exceeding speed limits and engaging in risky driving behaviors.

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