car driving at night

Pandemic-Related Car Crash Update

Robert Edwards March 9, 2021

You would think that with fewer people driving to and from work, there would be less traffic and consequently fewer injuries and deaths on our streets and highways. It turns out that is not the case. In today's Arizona Daily Star was a report out of Detroit from the National Safety Council. They reported that 42,060 people died in vehicle crashes in 2020, an 8% increase over 2019 and the first jump in 4 years. Even worse, the fatality rate per 100 million miles driven jumped 24%, the largest annual percentage increase since they begin collecting data IN 1923! Michael Hansen, Dir. of the Minnesota Public Safety's Department's office of traffic safety was quoted as saying: "We are seeing a huge increase in the amount of risk-taking behavior" among drivers.

In addition to the deaths, the Safety Council estimated that 4.8 million people were injured in crashes last year.

Federal data showed that Americans drove 13% fewer miles in 2020, yet the number of deaths rose at an alarming rate.

Concerning the type of reckless behavior causing this bike in injuries and deaths, The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's data shows speed to be the top factor as well as (in order) increased use of alcohol, marijuana and opioids.

In Minnesota specifically, traffic volumes fell 60% when stay-at-home orders were issued early in the pandemic last spring and, naturally, state officials expected a corresponding drop in crashes and deaths. However while crashes did decline, deaths actually increased. The lack of traffic of course reduced congestion but that seemed to encourage reckless people to drive even faster. In late March and early April the number of speed -related fatalities more than doubled over the same period in 2019 in Minnesota. In 2019 the Minnesota State Patrol handed out just over 500 tickets for drivers traveling over 100 mph. That number rose to 1068 in 2020. More worryingly, the high number of speeding drivers is continuing even as traffic is starting to return to pre-pandemic levels. This does not bode well for Minnesotans or drivers throughout the country.

On a related note, an article in the Star Tribune last October has been sitting gathering dust on my desk because I meant to put the results on my blog. "Drivers going through the construction zone on Interstate 94 between Maple Grove and Rogers are following the vehicles in front of them to closely, and its causing havoc." It should not be a news

to anyone that tailgating will result in crashes. The construction on Interstate 94 which seems to have been going on since the beginning of time has meant that there is more

traffic in fewer lanes so people tend to bunch up. This raises the question of just how close is to close? The Minnesota driver's manual doesn't specify a distance but says the drivers must "maintain a safe distance between your vehicle and the vehicle in front of you." It also says that motorists must be far enough back to be able to stop or turn to avoid a collision. When I went through drivers training back in high school the rule of thumb was one car length for every 10 miles an hour of speed. That rule has served me well throughout my 50+ years of driving and I would commend it to all of you.