Speeding, distraction, intoxication: Why U.S. roads turned so lethal in 2020

carwrecked-300x200Motorists who didn’t make new year resolutions should sign on to some lifesaving, commonsense vows: They can pledge to slow down, focus on task more, and to halt the record road carnage that happened in 2020.

In the year just ended, Americans drove fewer miles than they had in recent years due to public health restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic and the virus-caused economic collapse. But drivers logged destructive results when they hit the road, the Wall Street Journal reported, noting:

“Historically, economic downturns have led to fewer vehicle miles traveled as well as lower rates of motor-vehicle deaths, but last year took a different turn. Nationally, vehicle miles traveled dropped an unprecedented 264.2 billion miles over the first half of 2020, a decline of 17% compared with the first half of 2019, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). In the same period, the agency estimated the number of fatalities shrank 2%, falling to 16,650 from 16,988 the previous year. But the rate of fatalities grew 18%, rising to 1.25 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, up from 1.06. In other words, an inordinate number of people died given how many fewer miles they traveled. It was the highest motor-vehicle fatality rate for that span of time in a dozen years.”

The newspaper interviewed experts, including law enforcement officials, finding that streets and highways turned so deadly last year due to multiple causes, speeding chief among them. With byways wide open at various points of the year, or with far less traffic at other points, too many motorists put the pedal to metal. They also failed to focus and let distractions run amok. They stopped wearing safety devices, notably seat belts.

Bob Pishue, an analyst with INRIX, a company that studies traffic patterns, told the Wall Street Journal:

“On less-congested roads, you get fewer collisions, but the collisions you do have are more severe.”

The newspaper also reported:

“In a report released last month, Mr. Pishue examined how the Covid-19 pandemic affected collisions on the busiest roads in the nation’s top 25 metropolitan areas and found a 31% increase in the fatality rate during the second quarter.”

Federal officials at NHTSA, meantime, scrutinized safety behaviors and the road toll in the second quarter of last year, finding, as the newspaper reported:

“Last April, the ejection rate was double what it had been the previous year … pointing to a decrease in seat-belt use. And data from five trauma centers revealed a higher prevalence of alcohol, marijuana, and opioids in crash victims throughout the second quarter compared with previous years.”

Not good. 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 car, truck, and motorcycle wrecks. Vehicular crashes can upend lives, leaving patients and their families with costly, debilitating injuries. They can be prevented, and with emergency rooms overwhelmed these days with coronavirus cases, the last place anyone wants to be is banged up and headed to a virus-slammed hospital.

The nation had made progress to reducing its road toll, but we’ve been sliding in recent times. Please don’t get behind the wheel when distracted, drunk, drugged, or drowsy. Don’t take your eyes off the road to text message, and, really: Put down that electronic device while driving or face legal consequences. And, yes, ease off the gas and don’t speed. As the Wall Street Journal reported:

“Travel is now close to pre-Covid-19 levels across the country, but INRIX has found that traffic patterns remain fundamentally changed, perhaps contributing to some drivers’ continuing willingness to push the envelope and risk paying the price. ‘The 5 p.m. rush hour is close to normal, but there are free-flow speeds in the morning and very little congestion’ Mr. Pishue said. ‘Until employers feel comfortable employees will be safe coming into the office, it’s likely to stay this way for a little while.’”

Still, as the savvy adage reminds: Stay alive, don’t (drink, doze, get distracted, or speed) while you drive. We’ve got a lot of work to do to be safer in our vehicles.

Patrick Malone & Associates, P.C. listed in Best Lawyers Rated by Super Lawyers Patrick A. Malone
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