Traffic fatalities have increased due to riskier driving

Published 10:11 am Saturday, July 23, 2022

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If the work commute seems more perilous in recent years, it’s because dangerous driving habits established during the pandemic have not abated.

Motorists engaged in riskier driving habits during the COVID-19 pandemic while fewer cars were on the road. Although the disease is now in its endemic phase and Virginians are resuming regular activities, dangerous driving habits have continued.

In just 24 months, Virginia’s traffic fatalities increased 17%, according to Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles data — from 827 fatalities in 2019 to 968 fatalities in 2021.

“So far, the trend continues in 2022,” said David Tenembaum, senior actuarial manager for Virginia Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Co. and DriveSMART Virginia board member.

“These deaths and injuries are especially tragic because they were easily preventable,” he continued. “Sharing the road, obeying speed limits and buckling up are basic driving skills.”

Virginia motorists were 50% more likely to speed at least 10 mph over the speed limit from March to June 2020, compared with the same period in 2019, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports. And drivers haven’t slowed down since.

“The empty roads probably tempted pandemic-stressed drivers to put the pedal down,” says Jessica Cicchino, vice president of research at IIHS. “But information collected since the lockdowns ended and the roads filled back up suggests that risky driving has become the new normal.”

Overall, traffic volumes at study sites fell by a quarter during Virginia’s lockdown. Those numbers suggest that the absence of rush-hour traffic prompted motorists to drive faster than usual.

The 2021 Virginia DMV crash statistics report indicated there was one crash every 4.4 minutes, resulting in 2.7 lives lost and 161 injuries on Virginia roadways every day.

Nationwide, crash deaths jumped 7% in 2020 despite a dramatic decrease in the number of miles Americans drove. Fatal crashes involving speeding or alcohol and deaths of unbelted vehicle occupants saw especially large increases, according to National Highway Traffic Administration figures.

As drivers logged more miles in 2021, the pattern continued.

“With nearly 43,000 lives lost on U.S. roadways last year, we can’t accept this increase in dangerous driving behaviors,” said Cicchino. “We need to double down on implementing proven solutions that have been shown to prevent speeding, like automated speed enforcement and road designs that slow traffic.”

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