CSET Project #: 2205
Project Funding: NIATT
Start Date: March 2022
End Date: July 2023
In March 2020, the outbreak of the coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) was declared a pandemic. This was followed by a response that has had significant effects on all aspects of people’s life impacting all their economic and social activities. These work-at-home, business closure, and travel restrictions has significantly disrupted the nation’s transportation reducing travel to significant lower levels especially during the second quarter of 2020. While the reduced vehicle travel miles (VMT) during most of 2020 would have reduced the risk of collisions, recent statistics in the US show a considerable increase in fatal crashes in the nine months that followed the travel restriction in 2020 (April 2020-December 2020) compared to the same period in previous years. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration NHTSA’s early estimates show that 38,680 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2020. This is the largest number of fatalities since 2007. Preliminary data from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) shows that while VMT in 2020 decreased by approximately 13.2-percent compared to 2019, the fatality rate for 2020 was 23.4-percent higher than that for 2019
(1.37 fatalities per 100 million VMT in 2020 up from 1.11 fatalities per 100 million VMT in 2019). NHTSA’s analysis shows that the main behaviors that drove this increase include impaired driving, speeding, and failure to wear a seat belt (NHTSA 2021).
In May 2020, the National Police Foundation published a fact sheet based on their examination of traffic crashes and fatalities from an initial sample of five states: Florida, Iowa, Ohio, Massachusetts, and Missouri. The fact sheet states: “While the number of traffic and fatal crashes decreased across the states, fatality rates increased across each state during April and in parts of March compared to 2019 data. These data may suggest a probable increase in behaviors that should cause concern among policymakers, including what appears to be an increase in excessive speed and reckless driving among motorists.” It also adds that “early anecdotal information suggested that reduced traffic congestion on the roads was due to stay-at-home orders as well as businesses that are either closed or running on reduced operations. Consequently, increased maneuverability and absence of drivers on the roads may be incentivizing higher speeds and reduced control while driving. This assessment suggests that it is important for drivers to remain even more vigilant and practice greater safety while driving in order to reduce the potentially devastating outcomes from this emerging trend.” (National Police Foundation, 2020).
Several studies have attempted to identify factors that may have contributed to such a sharp increase in fatal crash rates during the pandemic. Vingilis et al (2020) identified several factors that might have contributed to the reported increase in fatal crash rate including increase risky behaviors as a result of less congested roadways and reduced law enforcement presence. Increased alcohol sales and use have been reported among the characteristics of the pandemic. Liu et al., (2020) attributed the increased use of alcohol to the reported increase in stress, anxiety, and depression among several population groups. Carter (2020) reported that the proportion of speeding-related crashes and fatalities had increased during the pandemic lockdown in North Carolina. Lockwood et al., (2020) reported similar results in Virginia.
This research examines the Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on fatal crash rates for RITI communities in several states and identifies factors that might have contributed to such impact in fatal crash rates.
Carter D. Transportation Research Board (TRB) Webinar; Effects of COVID-19 Shutdown on Crashes and Travel in NC 2020 North Carolina Department of Transportation. http://www.trb.org/ElectronicSessions/Blurbs/180648.aspx. November 26, 2020.
Liu J.Y., Mooney D.P., Meyer M.M., Shorter N.A. Teenage driving fatalities. J. Pediatr. Surg. 1998;33(7):1084–1089
Lockwood M., Lahiri S., Babiceanu S. Transportation Research Board (TRB) Webinar; 2020. Traffic Trends and Safety in a COVID-19 World. What Is Happening in Virginia? Virginia department of Transportation (VDOT) http://www.trb.org/ElectronicSessions/Blurbs/180648.aspx 2020. November 27,2020.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “2020 Fatality Data Show Increased Traffic Fatalities During Pandemic”. https://www.nhtsa.gov/press-releases/2020-fatality-data-show-increased-traffic-fatalities-during-pandemic. November 27, 2020.
National Police Foundation. (2020). COVID-19 law enforcement analysis & resources: Traffic crashes and fatality/fatal crash rates [Fact sheet]. https://www.policefoundation.org/publication/assessing-the-impact-of-covid-19-and-community-responses-on-traffic-crashes-and-fatalities/
Vingilis E., Beirness D., Boase P., Byrne P., Johnson J., Jonah B., Mann R.E., Rapoport M.J., Seeley J., Wickens C.M., Wiesenthal D.L. Coronavirus disease 2019: what could be the effects on Road safety? Accident Analysis Prev. 2020;144:105687