The Impact of COVID on Auto Accidents: Before and After

Weinstein Legal

Last Updated: May 2nd, 2022 at 4:16 pm
Read Time: 5 Minutes

If you look for news reports of recent car accidents in Florida, you might be expecting to see fewer results than you did before the COVID-19 pandemic. There were fewer cars on the road, so it seems like it would follow that reckless driving, drunk driving, accidents, and fatalities would all decrease.

There are some statistics that indicate that 2020 was a safer year for driving.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) tracks data related to the safety of the nation’s highways. According to their data, deaths from car accidents did decrease to 16,650 in 2020, down from 16,988 in 2019, which amounts to a 2% decrease in vehicle accident fatalities.

This, however, is not the full story of how COVID-19 impacted our driving. Accident fatalities fail to capture how the number of deaths relates to the number of cars on the road. During the pandemic when many businesses were shut down and people were working and attending classes at home, fewer cars were on the road.

A better way to gauge the impact of Covid-19 on car accidents in 2020 is to consider fatalities in relation to vehicles miles traveled (VMT).

People drove less in 2020. VMT for early to mid-2020 indicates there was a 16.6% drop compared to the same timeframe from the previous year. The Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) preliminary data for 2020 suggests that VMT decreased by 13.2% from the previous year, plunging by about 430,200,000,000 miles.

There was an 18% increase in fatalities in relation to VMT, from 1.06 per 100 million VMT in 2019 to 1.25 per million VMT in 2020.

This disturbing swing in deaths on the road indicates that COVID-19 has had a significant negative impact on road safety, which affects all of us. Traffic experts have expressed concern that this problem could get worse if this driving trend continues as the traffic volume returns to pre-pandemic levels.

Why Were People Less Safe When the Roads Were Less Crowded?

For some, wide-open city streets, free of their usual rush hour traffic, was an invitation to take a break from the safety precautions they typically follow. Some drivers stopped following speed limits or wearing seatbelts.

Other drivers are driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Since the start of the pandemic, substance abuse has been on the rise. Because of quarantine, people are unable to have a designated driver, and they are, increasingly, driving after using drugs or alcohol.

Many police departments reduced traffic stops for minor traffic violations to prevent the spread of COVID-19, which may have emboldened some drivers.

Intoxicated Driving During COVID-19

The figures on intoxicated driving are staggering.

A study that gathered data from five trauma centers in the U.S. found that 67% of drivers who were injured or killed in a car crash had alcohol or substances in their system. In particular, opioid usage and driving is on the rise, with nearly double the drivers in the study who tested positive compared to the six months before the pandemic.

During the pandemic, Americans are using substances to deal with stresses related to COVID-19. The CDC has suggested that as many as 13% of Americans are using substances to cope with pandemic-related stressors.

Seat Belt Use During COVID-19

In the first months of the pandemic, the NHTSA estimates that 28.4% of drivers and 40.8% of passengers were not wearing their seat belts. In the six months prior to the pandemic, those figures were much lower, 21.9% of drivers and 24.6% of passengers.

Driver and passenger ejections during Emergency Medical Service (EMS) activations is one of the ways to measure seat belt usage and its impact on injury and death rates on the road.

After lockdown, there was a dramatic increase in ejection rates. The ejection rate per 100 car crash EMS activations jumped up to 1.5, which had been at just 0.6 during the same timeframe in 2019. These high ejection rates continued throughout 2020.

Speeding During COVID-19

In the first months of the pandemic, the Federal Highway Administration’s National Performance Management Research Data Set noted a 22% increase in speeds in many cities. Average speeds on interstates increase from 50 to 60 miles per hour from the same period in 2019. Even small increases in speed make accidents more likely.

Many police departments are reporting a rise in the number of tickets for going over 100 miles per hour is up, and this is a speed that greatly increases the chances of fatalities.

Will Things Get Back to Normal on Florida Roads?

It is possible that the roads will get back to normal once traffic returns to its pre-pandemic levels. However, experts are concerned that reckless driving behaviors will continue and have even more dire consequences when more drivers return to the road.

Catherine Chase of the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety says that she is “especially concerned that as more and more people go back on the roadways, that these patterns and behaviors don’t subside and people continue to speed, continue not to wear their seat belts, drive impaired — but there will be more people on the roads.”

It remains unclear if the return of other drivers will cause others to stop driving while intoxicated, speeding, or refusing to wear seat belts. The return of regular traffic stops and designated drivers may help, but some may still find it challenging to break the habits and behaviors they developed during the pandemic.

To stay safer on the road regardless of where this troubling driving trend is headed, be vigilant on the road and take adequate safety precautions while driving. And, of course, do not drink and drive.

If you or someone close to you has been injured in a car accident caused by someone else’s reckless driving or other negligence, it is important to get in touch with an auto accident attorney in Florida as soon as possible.

At Weinstein Legal, we understand personal injury cases, and we want to guide you through the entire process. We know how physically, emotionally, and financially damaging a car accident can be, and we want to aggressively pursue the damages you are entitled to, so that you can focus on recovering from this horrible event and getting your life back.

We know that car accidents can happen outside of business hours, which is why we are always ready to answer your call. Our personal injury lawyers work all over South & Central Florida and the Treasure Coast.