Safety experts across the nation are struggling to understand how an overall decrease in drivers has resulted in an increase in serious traffic collisions. For nearly two years, drivers have become accustomed to less traffic and open roads. Unfortunately, this has translated to an increase in crash fatalities.
Figures published by the National Safety Council (NSC) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are sobering. Traffic data in Indiana showed the number of crash fatalities jump from 803 in 2019 to 888 in 2020 – a 10% increase. The data also shows there have been 787 traffic deaths in 2021 (tabulated up to early November), a total that will likely meet or exceed the 2020 figure.
The reasons for this increase are myriad, including:
- Reckless driving and speeding: With fewer vehicles on the roads and more space to work with, drivers often feel compelled to break certain traffic laws. This can include speeding and reckless maneuvers they might have avoided in the past. Sudden lane changes, for example, or quickly traversing a tight corner might be prevented with other vehicles on the road. With sparse traffic around them, however, drivers might take more chances.
- Ignoring safety protocols: For most drivers, the use of a seat belt while behind the wheel is second nature. Unfortunately, many drivers have become lax in using these safety features. Even a low-speed collision can be deadly to an unbelted driver.
- Distracted driving: Encouraged by open spaces, commuters might seek to pass the time or multitask while behind the wheel. Driving distractions can include eating, drinking, reading, texting or personal grooming. In fact, any activity that pulls attention from the road can be a deadly distraction.
- Impaired driving: While this is a problem at any time during any year, drivers might mentally minimize the danger they face because there is simply less traffic. Even though the definition of impaired driving was historically linked to drugs or alcohol, the list now includes strong medication. Whether over the counter or prescription medication, these substances can have powerful side effects that reduce reaction times, blur perceptions and impact cognitive abilities.
Numerous factors can impact the severity of a traffic collision and the resulting injuries. From the types of vehicles involved and the angle of collision to the speeds at which the commuter was traveling, crashes can result in brain damage, spinal cord injuries, paralysis and amputation. It is not uncommon for severe collisions to result in fatalities.