2020 was the year of staying home. Across the United States, miles traveled on both local roads and highways dropped as millions of people worked from home instead of making their daily commutes, schools shifted to remote learning or cut back the number of school days, and bars, restaurants, and other common destinations shut down or significantly limited service.
In theory, that should have meant that our roads were safer. Or, at least, that the number of traffic fatalities dropped. But, that didn’t happen. In Massachusetts, there were 334 traffic fatalities in 2020, compared with 337 in 2019. At first glance, it seems that the risk of a fatal traffic accident held steady. However, the number of traffic crashes overall declined considerably – – about 40,000 fewer traffic accidents took place in Massachusetts in 2020 than in 2019. That means the percentage of accidents resulting in fatalities actually increased with less traffic on the road.
Why are Empty Roads More Dangerous?
We looked at early trends last spring, when traffic fatalities in Massachusetts were up despite a decrease of about 50% in traffic. At the time, all indications were that driver carelessness played a significant role in the increased risk. With fewer cars on the road, drivers seemed to be tending toward driving faster and being less vigilant.
Those factors still figure prominently. But, additional information suggests that driving under the influence of alcohol and failing to wear seat belts also played a greater role in 2020. Others have suggested contributing factors such as a decline in driving skills as people are spending less and less time on the road. One expert has even suggested a sort of backlash impact, wherein people who are burned out on restrictions and precautions during the pandemic see their cars as safe zones where they don’t have to be constantly on guard.
The Bottom Line on Road Safety During and After the Pandemic
Clearly, a mix of factors have contributed to the increasing likelihood that a traffic accident will be fatal. Although vaccines promise a return to more normal patterns on the horizon, that change won’t be immediate. And, we don’t know yet how many workers will return to the office in 2021. Some employers are talking about delaying a return to on-site work, or even contemplating shifting to a fully or mostly remote workforce. That means we don’t know exactly what to expect from traffic patterns in 2021 and beyond.
We do know that the idea that roads would be safer because there were fewer cars on the road did not hold true. In other words, we know that it is at least as important as ever to wear seatbelts, refrain from driving under the influence or when sleepy, avoid distractions on the road, and observe speed limits and other traffic safety regulations. Committing to taking those basic precautions could help reduce risks on the road.
It’s also important to consider that we do not yet know what the impact of increasing traffic will be. Drivers who have continued to commute throughout the pandemic have, apparently, developed sloppy habits and increased their speed. Those drivers will need to readjust to having heavier traffic on the road. At the same time drivers who have been out of the commuting game for a year or more will have to readjust to the trip while sharing the road with those less attentive, more aggressive drivers.
Whichever group you fall into, it is important to be vigilant on the road. If you have been injured in an accident with a driver who was speeding, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, aggressive in following too close or making unsafe lane changes, or otherwise failing to exercise appropriate care on the road, you may be entitled to compensation.
Attorney Kevin P. Broderick assists people who have been injured in car accidents in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. To learn more about your rights and options after a motor vehicle accident, schedule a free consultation. Just call 978-459-1792 or fill out the contact form on this site.
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