Roads Are Emptier But Riskier During Coronavirus Quarantine. Fatality Rate Up 14%.

May 21, 2020

As Americans have been driving less and covering fewer miles, the emptier roads have become more lethal.

Preliminary data from the National Safety Council indicate a year-over-year 14% jump in fatality rates per miles driven in March, in spite of an 8% drop in the total number of roadway deaths compared to March 2019.

The actual number of miles driven dropped 18.6% compared to the same time period last year. The mileage death rate per 100 million vehicle miles driven was 1.22 in March compared to 1.07 in March 2019.

Through the first three months of 2020, the following states have experienced notable increases in the number of roadway deaths: Arkansas (16%), California (8%), Connecticut (42%), Illinois (11%), Louisiana (23%), Nevada (10%), New York (17%), North Carolina (10%), Oklahoma (9%), Tennessee (6%) and Texas (6%).

NSC Report: Monthly Preliminary Motor-Vehicle Fatality Estimates – March 2020

States with notable decreases include Arizona (-4%), Hawaii (-32%), Idaho (-28%), Iowa (-13%), Maryland (-13%), Michigan (-12%), Oregon (-24%) and South Carolina (-12%).

For the three-day Memorial Day weekend starting at Friday, May 22, NSC estimates 366 potential fatalities. If the estimate holds, it will be the lowest number of fatalities for the holiday period since 2014.

“Disturbingly, we have open lanes of traffic and an apparent open season on reckless driving,” said Lorraine M. Martin, NSC president and CEO. “Right now, in the midst of a global pandemic and crisis, we should take it as our civic duty to drive safely. If we won’t do it for ourselves, we should do it for our first responders, our law enforcement and our healthcare workers, who are rightly focused on coronavirus patients and should not be overwhelmed by preventable car crashes.”

Many auto insurance companies have recognized the expected decrease in driving and reduction in accident claims in giving refunds and discounts to insureds.

Quarantines and shelter in place directives across the country most likely account for a significant portion of the drop in the number of deaths, according to the NSC. However, the organization says additional insight is needed to determine the alarming rise in death rates. Anecdotal reports indicate speeding, for example, has increased significantly since traffic diminished. Some officials are also moving forward with what NSC considers “ill-advised roadway tactics” intended to address the COVID-19 pandemic such as repealing requirements for teen drivers to pass road tests before acquiring licenses and relaxing hours of service rules for commercial vehicle drivers.

Even with the declining fatality numbers in March, deaths on the road are up an estimated 2% through the first three months of 2020 compared to the same time period last year. This tentatively reverses gains made in 2018 and 2019. After three straight years of at least 40,000 roadway deaths, fatalities plateaued in 2018 and dropped an estimated 2% in 2019, according to preliminary NSC estimates.

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