Thursday, February 2, 2023

The year of driving less, but more dangerously

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In theory, bring the company to a screeching halt should reduce road fatalities. No one goes to bars and drives home; few go to work; the occasional trip to the grocery store does not require excessive speed.

Thus, when parts of the country stopped this year in the middle of Covid-19 pandemic, it was easy to predict the outcome. Taking into account public health officials, many people have stopped traveling. So, yes, road fatalities have declined, at least in the first half of the year, according to the latest available government data. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which tracks fatal traffic accidents said 16,650 people died on American roads from January to June, up from 16,988 during the same period a year earlier, a drop of 2%.

But the volume of traffic fell a lot more. As a result, more people died per mile traveled – 1.25 per 100 million miles in the first half of the year, up from 1.06 over the same period in 2019, and the highest rate since 2008. April to June, the numbers were equal. more serious: deaths per kilometer driven jumped 31% from 2019, a figure that has generally stagnated government researchers called “striking.”

When the pandemic lockdowns began, “there were people saying we were going to have a day without death” on the roads, says Robert Wunderlich, transportation researcher and director of the Center for Transportation Safety at the Texas Transportation Institute. “Then we turned around, and that’s not what happened. It’s really baffling, to be honest.

The numbers show how Covid-19 has spawned other public health emergencies, as the social effects and failures of officials to tackle the pandemic spill over into every part of American life.

Now, researchers wonder if the relative spike in deaths is a failure or a sign of deeper problems on the roads – the kind that demand the attention of lawmakers and policymakers. “This is something that transportation analysts and researchers are going to study for a long time,” says Bob Pishue, senior economist at Inrix, a traffic analysis company.

Evidence suggests that the pandemic has sometimes created a perfect storm for road safety. The open roads tempted the speeders. Police have reduced traffic law enforcement due to low traffic volume and reduced arrests for minor infractions to protect officers’ health, according to a government investigation. And many places have seen spikes in drug and alcohol use public health officials theorize are linked to stress, boredom and lack of a regular schedule. In a study65% of people killed in crashes in the first four months of the pandemic have tested positive for at least one drug, and the proportion of people who test positive for opioids has doubled, to 14%. The pandemic has also brought out of the streets exactly the kinds of people who made them safer – older drivers, risk avers and not in road rage or speeding.

The effects of “pandemic driving” seemed worse in some places than in others. A government analysis this month found that deaths in the first months of the pandemic were more likely on rural roads, involving male drivers, passengers and pedestrians aged 16 to 24, and among those who did not wear seat belts. A Inrix report finds that the majority of major US subways experienced 25% fewer collisions between April and October, but the drops were less pronounced in places such as Chicago, Miami, Seattle and St. Louis.

One of those terrible outliers is Wisconsin. Analysis According to the Wisconsin Policy Forum, the total number of accidents this year through July was down 26 percent from the previous year; accident-related injuries decreased by 23 percent. But fatalities soared 17% and fatalities by 20%, far exceeding national and even regional trends, even though fewer people were driving. Parts of Milwaukee had seen skipping road deaths even before the pandemic, and the state has long had a higher rate of alcohol-related deaths, although the numbers have come down.


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