Speed Kills: Experts Ponder Increasing Rates of Motor Vehicle Fatalities

Nancy Grover

Sarasota, FL (WorkersCompensation.com) – Traffic roundabouts and narrower lanes to slow the pace of traffic may be among the lasting effects of the coronavirus pandemic, says a panel of experts. The reduced amount of traffic on roadways of late has corresponded to higher fatility rate The experts are seeking strategies to change the statistics.

“In March, April and today the number one concern of governor’s offices: speed,” said Jonathan Adkins, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association. “Speed has been a dramatic problem for us. People are excited to be [back] on the road.”

The National Safety Council released figures showing “the fatality rate per miles driven in May – when most of the country was deep in quarantine from the pandemic – jumped a staggering 23.5% compared to the previous year, despite far less traffic on the roads. The number of miles driven in May dropped 25.5% compared to the year prior. The increased rate comes in spite of an estimated 8% drop in the number of deaths for May compared to the prior year. Overall, the mileage death rate per 100 million vehicle miles driven was 1.47 in May compared to 1.19 in 2019,” according to the NSC.

“After three straight years of rising fatality numbers between 2015 and 2017, the country had been experiencing a leveling off and small decline in overall fatalities,” the NSC said in a statement. “Further, employers are sending employees back to work, meaning commutes are resuming – and motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of workplace deaths.”

The NSC hosted a virtual roundtable discussion with representatives of several other organizations yesterday to discuss the state of traffic safety and what needs to be done.

Potential Causes, Solutions

While the data on traffic crashes during the pandemic is too new to reach substantive conclusions, the panelists speculated as to what factors are driving the higher numbers.

“These are just times like we’ve not seen before, with higher levels of stress and anxiety across motorists throughout the country,” said Jake Nelson, director of traffic safety advocacy and research for the Automobile Association of America. “We’ve also seen data that reports that alcohol sales are up and use of drugs like cannabis has also increased. So that raises concerns around substance misuse and abuse and obviously impaired driving as well, something that we all need to think about in terms of how we work as traffic safety.”

The current environment may also be fostering more reckless driving. There’s an attitude of dismissing practices that keep motorists safe, such as obeying speed limits.

“Speed is a factor in one-third of crashes. But it’s never given the priority it deserves,” Adkins said. “Why? Because everyone speeds. We all do it. We’re all guilty of it. And there’s never been public support or really doing anything serious about it.”

In recent years, some states have increasingly upped their speed limits. That creates what Adkins called a ‘double whammy. “The speed limit goes up, let’s say five miles an hour. And then there’s that speed cushion where law enforcement is encouraged to give a cushion above that. So instead of seeing a five mile an hour speed limit increase you typically see sometimes a 10 mile an hour actual increase if not worse.”

While selling the idea of reduced speed limits may be tough, it’s one of several strategies the experts say must at least be considered as a way to reduce the motor vehicle death rate.

“It’s really important … that we double down on the countermeasures that we know keep you safe when you drive a car,” said Lorraine Martin, president and CEO of the NSC. “We need to think about things like the blood alcohol level rules in our nation. We need to look at decreasing speed limits where we can, as opposed to increasing them; and then ensuring that all states have primary seatbelt laws. Though none of those measures are great if we as citizens don’t have the right behavior, but they are a start and we know that enforcement and legislation and education are all part of making sure that we drive safely.”

Role of Employers

A big factor in reducing risky driving behaviors is influence from employers, the speakers said. As companies reopen their brick-and-mortar offices, they have an opportunity to emphasize the importance of safe driving practices.

“I do think employers have often led the way on safety issues in our nation and have done so in transportation and need to do so here as well,” the NSC’s Martin said. “Employers can just have some kind of re-education for all of their employees regarding driving for business, driving to and from work.

“Employers are big factors in all of our lives with those of us who are in the workforce,” Martin added. “They can not only bring us messages and education around this issue, but they can also make sure that they’ve got procedures and policies; maybe additional parking so people can be spread out. You can potentially have shuttle buses to support folks so that they’re not necessarily in crowded public transportation. There’s a lot that we can do, and we must do.”

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