As “stay home” orders associated with the COVID-19 pandemic continue to be lifted, a new report suggests that the volume of traffic on U.S. roadways is expected to be much higher than normal over the coming summer months, as Americans use their own vehicles rather than mass transit, which could increase the rate of automobile accidents nationwide.
In findings published late last month by Urgently, a Global Mobility and Roadside Assistance Platform, researchers indicate that as normal traffic patterns return due to states easing of COVID-19 restrictions, automobile traffic could spike as much as 130% of historic volumes by mid-summer.
Travel averages reached historic lows in April 2020, with 41% less volume on roadways, as an estimated 316 million people in at least 42 states, three counties, 10 cities, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico were instructed by local government officials to stay-at-home, as part of an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
While officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warn that the virus is still a national threat, lifting stay-at-home orders and travel guidelines that have kept Americans from their traditional summer travels could cause vehicle miles traveled this summer to reach record highs over the next few months.
The findings come from the Summer 2020 Transportation & Travel Intentions Survey, which revealed 22.8% of respondents expect to use less public transportation while more than 27% intend to increase the use of their own vehicle as stay-at-home orders lift and the economy reopens.
Surveyors recorded 33.5% of respondents plan to travel for summer vacation or holiday weekends, with 35.4% plan to travel at least 500 miles and 21.1% plan to travel at least 1,000 miles.
Across the nation, many states still have not fully restored their transportation services to appease daily commuter schedules, leaving many to resort to the use of their personal vehicles for work or leisurely travel. In addition, many Americans who would typically use buses or airline services to travel for vacation may resort to using their personal vehicle for these trips, believing that will decrease the risk of exposure to coronavirus, resulting in increased miles driven on roadways across the nation.
Researchers indicate Vehicles Miles Traveled (VMT) is a measure used extensively in transportation planning for a variety of purposes, such as projecting the frequency of automobile crashes, and injuries and fatalities related to those crashes.
The projection of increased vehicle miles traveled by Americans may adversely impact the rate of traffic related fatalities, especially for pedestrians in popular vacation towns due to more vehicles on the roadway.
Despite a three year consecutive decrease in total traffic fatalities, the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) released the 2019 Pedestrian Traffic Fatalities by State earlier this year indicating the number of pedestrians killed in traffic accidents increased significantly last year, reaching the highest levels recorded in more than three decades.
GHSA’s indicates auto accidents that resulted in a pedestrian death increased by 5% when compared to 2018. The report notes that distracted driving, walking with smartphones and drunk or drugged driving were significant contributing factors.
The rising rate of pedestrian fatalities has become a major focus of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which released a series of safety recommendations in September 2018, calling for the NHTSA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) to collaborate on efforts to produce better standards which will protect pedestrians.