Has COVID-19 Given Rise to Reckless Driving?
July 9, 2020
Reports from municipalities around the country indicate that reckless driving has increased significantly since the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded in mid-March. Organizations, such as the American Automobile Association (AAA), that analyze traffic trends are posing several theories as to why this is happening. Although lockdown restrictions are easing in some areas, drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians should remain alert for reckless drivers.
Excessive speeding has been on the rise in many areas of the country. Examples include the following:
- Cars in Los Angeles are traveling 30 percent faster on some streets, prompting the city to adjust the timing of traffic signals.
- On March 27 in New York City, automated speed cameras issued nearly twice the number of tickets compared to February 27, even though there were fewer vehicles on the road.
- Police arrested more drivers than usual going faster than 100 miles per hour on highways in Colorado, Utah, Nebraska, and Indiana.
- Virginia State Police stopped at least eight drivers going faster than 100 miles per hour on a single day in May; one of those arrested was driving 132 miles per hour.
- Maryland State Police ticketed one driver who was going 136 miles per hour on the Capital Beltway.
Why is Reckless Driving Increasing During the Pandemic?
There are several theories as to why more drivers are speeding on the roads, including the following:
- Less traffic
- Less road construction
- Fewer police on the road
- Frustration with lockdown restrictions
According to the Governor’s Highway Association (GHA), fewer traffic jams seem to be encouraging drivers to become more reckless. The GHA notes that state highway officials across the United States have reported a severe spike in speeding; in particular, more cars are driving faster than 100 miles per hour. Pennsylvania Turnpike authorities also place the blame on less road construction during the pandemic. Construction zones have slower speed limits and are usually more congested because of lane closings.
According to Car and Driver magazine, fewer police officers on the road may also lead some drivers to flout the law. Some police officers have reduced the number of traffic stops they conduct to practice social distancing, while other municipalities are seeking to reduce caseloads in the courts by avoiding misdemeanor arrests.
A spokesperson from AAA also theorized that some drivers may be frustrated with lockdown measures and with no particular place to go, turn roadways into speedways. Drag racing on roadways has also been increasing. A New York City police officer on a motorcycle was killed in late April when a driver who was apparently drag racing on the Cross-Island Parkway struck the back of the officer’s Harley-Davidson. According to a study by Zendrive, motorists are also braking harder and using their cell phones more since the pandemic began. The combination of distracted driving, aggressive driving, and speeding is proving to be deadly.
Has COVID-19 Affected Car Accident Fatalities?
Historically, speeding has always been a persistent factor in roadway fatalities. According to the GHA, approximately one-third of all car accident fatalities is related to speeding. Unfortunately, speeding drivers are statistically more likely to drive carelessly, even after they have been in an accident. According to a survey by AAA, drivers who have been in at least one car accident in the past 24 months were more likely to speed or text while driving after a crash.
The survey also found that 50 percent of drivers recently involved in a collision admitted to talking on the phone while driving in the past month, and 43 percent said they continued to text while driving. More than one in three drivers who were recently in a crash also admitted to running a red light in the past month. Drivers surveyed who were not recently in an accident engaged in texting, calling, and running red lights at a much lower rate. In summary, getting into a car accident is not a deterrent to careless driving.
How can Drivers Avoid Car Accidents?
Given the increased presence of reckless drivers on the road, it is helpful to review the basics of defensive driving. Motorists can avoid car accidents by following safe driving practices recommended by AAA:
- Obey all speed limits
- Stow the phone or turn it on airplane mode
- Stop driving if fatigued
- Do not drink and drive
Drivers must be alert for cyclists and pedestrians. Bicyclists and motorcycle riders should travel in a straight line and avoid dodging in and out of cars. Everyone needs to signal before they change lanes or turn, and always look behind them for a break in traffic when turning. All motorists should do their best to avoid a speeding vehicle. If a car is tailgating, it is best to pull over and let the other driver pass if it is safe to do so. Experts recognize that many people are on edge because of lockdown restrictions. The last thing a driver wants to do is trigger a road rage incident.
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