Although the number of vehicles on U.S. roadways has been substantially less during the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting shutdowns, new research suggests the overall number of serious car accidents that resulted in injuries and fatalities has remained pretty much the same.
In a report published in the October issue of Accident Analysis & Prevention, researchers look at traffic patterns during the several month period of statewide lockdowns to determine whether they reduced the overall rate of vehicle collisions and their severity.
Researchers from the University of Missouri performed an in-depth analysis using data from the Statewide Traffic Accident Records System, which included a total of 2,292 road traffic accident records in Missouri from January 1, 2020 through May 15, 2020. The study adjusted the time period to designate March 23 as the first day of mandated societal lockdown and May 3 as the first day of reopening.
According to the findings, there was an overall reduction in daily road accidents, from 17.9 to 14.4 per day. In addition, a significant reduction in the rate of minor or no injuries collisions was identified, dropping from 14.5 to 10.8 per day. However, despite that decrease, the rate of serious injuries and fatalities from car accidents actually increased from 3.4 per day before lockdown to 3.7 per day after the lockdowns.
Researchers theorize several possible contributing factors play into the contradicting statistics, such as open and cleared highways allowing drivers to speed and thus making accidents more deadly, changes in road safety campaigns, reduced levels of policing, and the increased speed of commercial vehicles without any change in volume.
Previous studies analyzing traffic patterns during the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders have supported the researchers’ theory that open and cleared highways altered driving behaviors, which resulted in increased speed.
In April, the analytics company INRIX, which specializes in roadway behavior, released a study showing the average speed of traffic on major highways increased by as much as 75%, as the volume of traffic dropped dramatically nationwide during the lockdowns. The firm warned that the higher speeds could lead to deadlier crashes and more serious injuries.
New York City transportation officials reported a more than 60% increase in the number of speeding tickets issued by speed camera traps in March, when compared to a year earlier, and Washington D.C. StreetLight Data recorded a 20% increase of speed camera tickets issued. In D.C., officials reported the amount of drivers violating speed limits by going 21-25 mph over the limit increased by nearly 40%
The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety (NHTSA) officials claim speeding is involved in approximately one-third of all motor vehicle fatalities annually, accounting for nearly 10,000 deaths in 2018 alone.