After a global shift to working from home, social distancing and self-isolating, the roads seem safer than ever. In reality, many areas have seen a rise in car accidents and other motor vehicle threats compared to pre-pandemic times.
With more people remaining in their homes and limited social outings, the number of cars on the road has decreased since the pandemic began in the spring of 2020. In the United States, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported the decline during the pandemic’s peak.
Global Improvement of Accident Rates
This trend echoed globally, as most developed countries placed heavy restrictions on social and professional activity. Other countries, including France, experienced a substantial decrease in accidents. Insurance companies granted a massive amount of refunds to insured drivers, noted by Forbes, as accidents decreased by 80 percent in the first three weeks of the pandemic.
Fatalities also decreased in France compared to the previous year along with road usage and congestion.
Not for Those on The Road
The drop in travel likely caused the statistical improvement. Those that continue to drive, regardless of work from home mandates or social restrictions, are still at risk for roadway accidents and other threats. Commercial drivers who have enabled the lockdown have not experienced fewer accidents or vehicle-related deaths while working to transport essential goods.
While the professionals have not changed their driving habits, other drivers have taken on new attitudes getting behind the wheel. “The pandemic has not been easy, and each person responds differently to the challenges,” Robert Marcus says. Responses include stress, distraction and consumption to help cope with the changes accompanying the global pandemic response.
Emotional impacts of the pandemic, especially from work from home, social distancing and self-isolation, have fueled new dangers associated with driving. Increased stress and loneliness not only impact the emotional clarity and attention of drivers, but lead to increased consumption of mood boosting substances. As drug and alcohol use has fluctuated, the number of accidents has followed.
NHTSA reports also show that more drivers involved in crashes or fatal accidents were not following safety precautions. With less driving, more people have been neglecting to fasten their seatbelts, comply with traffic safety regulations, such as speed limits or traffic signs, and driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
While this is evident in the U.S., the trend has also risen internationally as fewer drivers routinely get behind the wheel. France experienced this as well, with more drivers failing to abide by speed limit regulations and more fatal accident instances throughout the pandemic.
In addition to emotional changes, a demand for freedom could be the reason for increased accidents. Driving has historically been a vehicle for liberation, facilitating movement and control. These things have been heavily restricted over the past year to combat the coronavirus. Taking on the open road at high speeds and adopting new bicycling and exercise hobbies have created danger for those driving, either by choice or necessity.
The pandemic has changed a lot of practices regarding safety. While roads have become less crowded, people have become more careless, which has led to a rise in fatal car accidents. There are many reasons for this trend, but it is unclear whether it will improve in the near future as vaccines become more available.
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