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Front side view of black car driving fast.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our lives in significant ways, and we have seen a difference in how we work and attend school. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, 93% of households with school-aged children are engaged in some form of distance learning, and a recent survey found that 1 in 4 people will be working remotely this year. 

Because people are spending more time at home, fewer drivers are on the road. Unfortunately, that drop in traffic hasn’t translated to a decrease in fatalities — in fact, the U.S. saw a 24% spike in roadway death rates in 2020. What are the causes of this increase, and what does this mean for drivers trying to stay safe on the road?

Why Traffic Deaths May Be On The Rise

Experts cannot definitively say what caused the spike in traffic deaths, but they have some theories. Previous research has shown that drivers are more likely to speed on empty roads. Early in the pandemic, some police departments reported an uptick in speeding tickets for driving 100 miles per hour. Drivers may also feel more comfortable checking their cell phones, eating, or participating in other distractions if they don’t see many other vehicles on the road. 

Three national roadway safety organizations recently announced a pilot project to evaluate ways to reduce speeding, and Virginia is one of the first states to participate. Virginia will receive $100,000 to minimize speeding, focusing on education, public outreach, enforcement, and advocacy. This program could provide promising results about how to make our roads safer. It will be a long time before the program concludes, and Virginia and other states must confront a serious problem: people are driving up to 60% faster in U.S. metropolitan areas, and it’s likely contributing to traffic deaths. 

Distracted driving also causes a rise in fatal crashes. When you are behind the wheel, sending a text message, fiddling with your navigation system, or looking for your phone when you hear it ringing increases the chance of a car accident. In Virginia and many other states, distracted driving is against the law and subject to a $125 fine. Even though statutes discourage drivers from taking their eyes off the road, thousands of people die in crashes related to distracted driving each year. During the past several years, we have seen an increase in the number of crashes involving drivers who were using a cell phone in some way.  

Related: You Can’t Hold Your Cell Phone While Driving In Virginia. Now It’s The Law!

With roads less crowded due to the pandemic, drivers may feel more comfortable engaging in dangerous behavior. You might feel better about sending a quick text if you are the only one on the road, given that you are less likely to hit an unexpected pedestrian or rear-end a car that brakes suddenly. Distracted driving is still deadly, even if you aren’t stuck in serious traffic. Empty roadways can lead to people growing complacent. 

Another factor that may have contributed to the increase in traffic fatalities is directly related to the pandemic. The novel coronavirus is highly contagious and, in some cases, deadly. Some law enforcement departments instructed officers to limit in-person traffic stops to reduce potential COVID exposure. Along these lines, The International Association of Chiefs of Police recommended that officers only pull drivers over for “aggressive, egregious violations.” While a reckless driver will probably still be stopped by police, if people know that fewer traffic stops will occur, they may be more likely to take risks.

How To Stay Safe On The Road

The primary goal when driving is to get to your destination safely. Unfortunately, other careless drivers can cause you to be injured or worse. While there is no way to prevent tragedy completely, there are steps you can take to decrease your chances of being involved in a serious car accident.

You don’t always get to choose when to drive somewhere. But if you are traveling for leisure and not in a time crunch, you should avoid evening rush hour traffic, which is significantly more deadly than an early morning trip. 

Driving the speed limit and ignoring distractions also will make you less likely to cause a fatal crash. And another essential thing you can do is make sure you don’t act recklessly when faced with tense situations. Not succumbing to road rage, tailgating other cars, or taunting other drivers can help you and your passengers travel safely. The increase in traffic deaths is sobering, but we can all make an effort to keep our roads less dangerous.

Unfortunately, until the roads are made safer, you may find yourself the victim of an automobile accident. Consulting an experienced car accident lawyer can make a big difference in being fully compensated for your damages or injuries. The Curcio Law Firm based in Alexandria, Virginia, has represented hundreds of car accident victims. If you have been injured in a traffic accident, contact us online, call or text us at 703-836-3366 for a free consultation. We are here to help determine your best legal options.


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