Have Car Accidents Decreased During the COVID-19 Crisis?

The COVID-19 crisis has made American roads significantly less busy than they typically are. As fewer people drive to work—either because they’re working from home or lost their job—many people hoped that car accidents might be less severe. Now, as much of the nation has been staying home to fight the virus, are car accidents happening less? It depends on who you talk to.

What Studies Have Shown About COVID-19 Car Accidents

According to information released by UC Davis, traffic accidents and crash-related injuries and deaths were halved during the first three weeks of California’s shelter-in-place order. The policy began on March 20 and the university estimates that the decrease saved the state about $40 million each day. In other words, the state saved $1 billion in three weeks by having to respond to fewer car accidents.

“The reduction in traffic crashes, injuries and fatalities is a bit of a silver lining for people who are staying at home and who are impacted by the pandemic,” said UC Davis Road Ecology Center director and project lead author Fraser Shilling.

The department found that the state’s reduction in accidents was paired with up to a 55 percent reduction in traffic and a 40-50 percent decrease in serious injuries for drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists.

While Accidents Are Less Frequent, Drivers Are Increasingly Reckless

In other areas, drivers haven’t been as fortunate. The Governor's Highway Safety Association (GHSA) has said that, as roads emptied during the crisis, those who are on the roads are driving faster and more reckless than ever. In cities like Los Angeles, drivers have increased their speed by as much as 30% on some roads. In New York City, automated speed cameras issued nearly double the number of tickets than the average from the month before.

While many states are enjoying a lower crash rate, they’re having more serious crashes when one does happen. Fatalities caused by car accidents increased in Massachusetts and Minnesota, with the latter seeing deadly accidents more than double typical rates. Other states like Nevada and Rhode Island have seen an increase in pedestrian accidents.

"While COVID-19 is clearly our national priority, our traffic safety laws cannot be ignored," GHSA executive director Jonathan Adkins commented. "Law enforcement officials have the same mission as health care providers—to save lives."

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