As COVID-19 swept across the country this time last year, states instituted emergency lockdowns, slowing the virus’ spread and attempting to prevent the overrun of hospitals nationwide. While active and enforced, these measures worked, though even in isolation, many Americans endangered themselves anyway via reckless driving of both the solitary and organized kinds. So extreme was America’s sudden addiction to speed that despite a 13-percent drop in miles driven in 2020, the nonprofit National Safety Council estimated that road deaths actually soared to their highest point in 13 years.
The NSC, whose estimates have been accurate to National Center for Health Statistics figures within two percent for the last decade, projects 42,060 Americans died on the roads in 2020. This marks an increase of eight percent over 2019’s total, and the highest since 2007. A further 4.8 million are estimated to have sustained self-explanatory “medically consulted injuries.” Between these trends and a decrease in vehicle miles driven from 3.26 trillion in 2019 to 2.83 trillion in 2020, the overall road death rate increased 24 percent to 1.49 fatalities per 100 million miles driven.
Some state officials reportedly observed the uptick immediately following the enactment of pandemic lockdowns.
“Almost immediately the fatality rate started to go up, and go up significantly,” commented Michael Hanson, director of the Office of Traffic Safety for the Minnesota Public Safety Department, to ABC News. “It’s kind of terrifying what we’re seeing on our roads. We’re seeing a huge increase in the amount of risk-taking behavior.”
Hanson reportedly told the outlet he and his colleagues in other states noted a year-over-year doubling of speed-related fatalities from late March into early April. Corroborating this trend was the Minnesota State Patrol‘s count of tickets issued for speeds above 100 mph, which reportedly more than doubled to 1,068 total in 2020. Worryingly, Hanson reportedly stated this trend of speeding drivers has not reversed itself, despite traffic returning to near its pre-pandemic volume.
These changes to Americans’ driving behavior contributed to a $474 billion impact on the American economy according to the NSC, whose estimate includes costs related to injuries, deaths, and property damage. As these changes appear (at least for the time being) to be lasting, it seems time to reiterate the obvious: Drive safe, and watch out for people who don’t.
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