As the COVID-19 pandemic has swept the country, it has resulted in fewer drivers on the roads and a significant reduction in the number of miles driven. And yet US government data shows that road deaths have increased, along with an increase in crashes involving impaired driving, speeding, running red lights, aggressiveness and not wearing the seat belt, at its highest level in more than a decade. To understand the increase in dangerous driving behaviors, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety examined whether the pandemic has changed the composition of drivers on the road. He revealed that while most drivers have reduced their driving during the pandemic, a small proportion have actually increased their driving. Worse still, those who increased their driving appeared to be riskier than average, even after controlling for their age, gender and length of driving.
“Our research reveals that high-risk motorists made up a larger share of drivers during the pandemic than before,” said Dr. David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “Safety conscious people drove less, while those who increased their driving tended to engage in riskier driving behaviors.”
The Foundation’s new research finds that while only a small percentage of drivers (4%) increased their driving due to the pandemic, they were younger and disproportionately male, a group of drivers statistically more at risk than the average population.
Additionally, those who increased their driving during the pandemic were more likely to report engaging in the following risky driving behaviors in the past 30 days:
The COVID-19 pandemic and its associated restrictions have significantly affected travel behaviors and road safety in the United States. According to the Foundation’s latest U.S. Driving Survey, during the first few months of the pandemic, the average daily number of car trips taken by U.S. adults fell about 42% in April 2020, rebounded slightly, and then stabilized in the second half of 2020 at 2.2 daily trips, around 20% lower than the 2.7 daily trips in the second half of 2019.
And yet, when the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released its 2020 road fatality data, it found that approximately 38,680 people died in vehicle crashes, the highest number of deaths since 2007. This represents an increase of approximately 7.2. percent from the 36,096 fatalities reported in 2019. And the rise in fatalities continues, with new NHTSA traffic fatality data for the first nine months of 2021 finding that around 31,720 people died in accidents from January to September 2021, an increase of around 12% compared to the first nine months of 2020.
The increase in the number of road deaths is not a global phenomenon. Road deaths would be lower in almost all other high-income countries since 2019.
“Despite safer roads, safer vehicles, and tougher traffic safety laws, the United States has seen more, not less, deaths on our roads, even at a time when other countries have experienced dramatic declines,” said Jake Nelson, director of road safety advocacy at AAA. and research. “What is absolutely clear to AAA is that it will take further steps to bring us closer to zero road fatalities.”
AAA is a strong supporter of adopting the Safe System Approach (SSA) to road safety. SSA uses today’s effective countermeasures to create multiple layers of protection for transmission network users, rather than reacting reactively only after there is evidence of a specific security issue. For example, the United States needs to use better methods for determining posted speed limits rather than more common and outdated approaches. Other countries have taken advantage of the SSA to reduce road fatalities: 47% (Australia) and 80% (Spain).