The nation keeps zooming toward a tragic and preventable fatality measure: Our roads are staying as deadly as they became during the coronavirus pandemic, and 2021 is racing to be one of the most lethal vehicular years in a decade.
As the Washington Post reported of data on the year’s first quarter from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:
“The first quarter of 2021 was the deadliest start of a year on the nation’s roads in over a decade, with car crashes killing an estimated 8,730 people from January to March, according to a new estimate from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The numbers indicate that a surge in road deaths that began with the coronavirus pandemic has continued into this year, although they offer some early glimmer of hope that unusually high fatality rates might be beginning to come down. NHTSA said the ongoing high death rate appears to have been caused by drivers continuing to take risks by speeding, getting behind the wheel after drinking or using drugs, and not wearing seat belts. To coincide with the new estimates, NHTSA … released an updated version of a guide to improving highway safety, largely focusing on encouraging more-conscientious behavior on the roads and deterring risk-taking.”
The newspaper put in perspective the terrible numbers from the beginning of ’21:
“The estimated 8,730 deaths represent an increase of more than 10% compared with the same period last year and equate to 1.26 deaths for every 100 million miles driven. That rate is substantially lower than figures for the last nine months of 2020, when the death rate climbed to almost 1.5 per 100 million miles — but NHTSA’s data shows that the beginning of the year is typically the least deadly stretch.”
And while some regions showed encouraging road-death declines — including a 6% dip in Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia — experts also noted that Labor Day, the long weekend marking the unofficial end of summer, sends traffic volumes soaring. And 400 or so people will die during the holiday.
The federal agency said that law enforcement and government officials must take as many effective and proven steps as possible to boost road safety. This could include crackdowns on recklessness, speeding, and intoxicated driving, as well as with safety education and outreach and improvements to roads and signage, especially to safeguard pedestrians and bicyclists.
At the same time, motorists must accept greater responsibility, too, realizing that thrill-seeking, distraction (especially with electronic devices and texting and more), sleepiness, and driving while under the influence of substances (including prescription medications, as well as alcohol and marijuana) can have major and fatal consequences for others.
That sounds like a good common-sense approach — and motorists might take it to heart even more as they turn to the seriousness that traditionally accompanies fall. Sure, it is frustrating that the brisk commutes that were possible during the coronavirus lockdowns have evaporated, and jams and gridlock have returned. Please don’t take out your frustration with more normal circumstances by racing around still, diving in and out of traffic, and putting others at huge risk.
Let’s not forget that the huge push to get youngsters back to in-person classes also means that drivers need to exercise greater caution around schools and in neighborhoods where kids play — and too often neglect to watch out for cars, trucks, and motorcycles.
If Labor Day has come and again — how did that happen so quickly? — it also means that the seasons and clocks soon will shift. Motorists must exercise high caution during tricky early morning and late afternoon driving hours, taking care, too, as nightfall creeps up earlier.
In my practice, I see not only the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, but also the damage that can be inflicted on them and their loved ones by motorcycle, auto, and truck wrecks.
We had made big progress in recent decades reducing the nation’s road carnage. But this has been rolled back not only by the pandemic but more crucially by drivers’ negligence behind the wheel. If you have the misfortune of getting involved in a bad vehicle crash, you and your loved ones may wish not only to call in your insurer early but also experienced and expert lawyers to deal with the extensive legal issues that may ensue. Your auto agent represents the insurer, remember, and these individuals, kindly and conscientious as they may seem, may not be trained to deal with complex legal and medical issues.
We have lots of work to do to keep ourselves and our roads as safe as possible.