COVID-19 Reduces Miles Driven, But Not Auto Accident Fatalities
Despite weeks of stay-at-home orders due to the coronavirus, deaths on the nation’s roads increased when compared with the same time last year, and by a lot. Colorado is one of the states with a dramatic increase in traffic fatalities; some parts of the state saw as many fatalities in the first six months of 2020 as in all of 2019.
Fewer Cars on the Road Didn’t Equate to Fewer Fatalities
The United States recorded its first COVID-19 case in late January. By mid-March, most of the country was experiencing lockdowns and stay-at-home orders restricting movement to only essential needs, such as going to the grocery store. Various levels of lockdowns have occurred since, but despite all the restrictions, National Safety Council (NSC) research shows that during some months of the lockdown, traffic fatalities went up, not down when compared with the same time last year.
The NSC notes that in May, the number of miles driven in the U.S. decreased by more than 25 percent from May of 2019. However, May 2020 saw traffic deaths increase by nearly 24 percent when compared with the same time last year. Colorado saw a slight decrease of two deaths this past May when compared to 2019; however, safety officials say the overall trend of traffic fatalities this year is worrisome, especially in the southeast region of the state. Maile Gray, executive director of Drive Smart Colorado, reported that in southeast Colorado, 54 fatal crashes had been reported in the first six months of this year, compared with 53 in all of 2019.
Gray said motorcycle deaths are extremely troublesome because Region Two has already seen more than double the number of motorcycle accident deaths as in all of 2019, and there are still four months left in 2020. As Gray said, “Motorcycle deaths are absolutely the highest that we’ve seen in decades, year to date.”
Fewer Drivers, But More Speeders
One issue Gray pointed to as a probable cause for the increase in accidents is speeding. In late May, a Lakewood television station reported that ever since the lockdown, state police have been writing more speeding tickets than before the lockdown. Reporting shows that police ticketed more than 13,500 drivers during March, April, and May with several of those ticketed going 20 mph over the speed limit.
In March, the Colorado State Police (CSP) posted a Twitter photo after clocking a driver going 102 mph, and in Thornton, police caught a driver going 128 mph in a 55 mph zone. Speeding endangers everyone on the road because the person speeding has less time to react to situations, and it increases the amount of time needed to slow the vehicle down. The NSC reports that in 2018, speeding was a factor in 26 percent of all traffic fatalities killing more than 9,300 people, which translates into 25 deaths a day on U.S. roads due to the behavior.
Last year, the city of Denver took steps to reduce the number of speed-related crashes by lowering the speed limit on certain roads known for fatalities. Officials say speeding is a factor in 53 percent of Denver’s fatal auto accidents, so officials reduced the speed limit by five mph on four major roadways hoping that it will eliminate some traffic deaths and injuries.
Eulois Cleckley, executive director of Denver Public Works, noted, “We’re asking people to slow down on our roadways and recognize that speeding is one of the top behavioral causes of serious crashes in our city.”
And, now is a good time to remind everyone that even though Denver public schools are starting the year online, students may begin transitioning to classrooms in September. That means school zones will go into effect, and all drivers need to be aware of lower speed limits and take extra precautions near schools.