As reported in The Washington Post, a teenage pedestrian died in August after being hit by two cars along a portion of Indian Head Highway bordering Washington, D.C. It took place a few miles from where another pedestrian was killed in an incident with a vehicle the same month. In September, the driver and passenger of a speeding Toyota Supra were killed when they collided with another car on a busy stretch of Muddy Branch Road in Maryland’s Montgomery County. Three people in another vehicle were said to have suffered serious injuries.
In November, near the capital, a 53-year-old man was riding his bike to work when he was struck by a vehicle and killed at a major intersection. According to police records, he represents one of three bicyclists killed in the D.C. area last year, along with 82 pedestrians, one of which was on a scooter, another riding a skateboard.
Transportation and law enforcement officials expressed concern to The Washington Post’s transportation reporter Luz Lazo that the pandemic, which has so greatly altered our lives, is also altering the “dynamics of road safety.” In the District of Columbia and its close suburbs, it was reported that deaths were up from 2019, with 249 people dying in traffic-related incidents last year.
“The Washington region’s numbers mirror a national trend,” writes Lazo. “Across the country, 38,370 people were killed in highway crashes from January through November 2020, up 7 percent compared with the same period in 2019, according to preliminary federal data analyzed by the National Safety Council.”
As reported by WTOP News, an AAA Mid-Atlantic news release stated that in an attempted crackdown on aggressive driving, Virginia State Police “stopped at least eight drivers exceeding 100 mph on Saturday, May 2, with one of those drives clocked at 132 mph.” AAA Mid-Atlantic goes on to say that “Maryland State Troopers ticketed one driver for driving 136 mph on the Capital Beltway.”
As we venture out more and more into traffic following a year of the pandemic, we find still less traffic on the road than before stay-at-home orders began. What we also continue to see (especially around metropolitan areas) is excessive speeding and an almost lawless attitude about other drivers and rules of the road. Seeing cars at high speeds swerving in and out of traffic like they are auditioning for the next version of “Fast and Furious” has become a common experience in most suburban areas. We should not be surprised that traffic fatalities are rising nationally as a result of such behavior.
“We should be able to show a significant safety benefit from having less traffic,” the National Safety Council said in a statement last month. “Instead, in the midst of the worst health crisis in more than a century, we are experiencing even deadlier roadways.”
As reported in a recent opinion piece by Steve Lopez of the Los Angeles Times, about a month ago, 32-year-old office assistant Monique Munoz was heading home when a $200,000-plus Lamborghini SUV slammed into her vehicle, killing her. According to the Los Angeles Police Department, the Lamborghini was traveling at a “high rate of speed.” “The driver, 17, was arrested on suspicion of vehicular manslaughter,” reports Lopez.
“In the first month of the pandemic last spring, the California Highway Patrol reported that although traffic volume was down 35%, the number of citations for driving in excess of 100 miles an hour had increased by 87% over the same period a year earlier,” writes Lopez. “Between Sept. 1 and Oct. 31, 4,851 more CHP citations were issued for speeding at 100 miles an hour or more, a 93% increase over the same period a year earlier.” In addition, what Lopez refers to as “brazen street racing” is being reported around the state.
In researching his story, sources implored Lopez to not use the word “accidents” in describing these serious and fatal collisions. They are almost always avoidable. Long before the pandemic arrived, the California Highway Patrol stated that nearly one-third of all traffic fatalities are caused, in part, due to driving too fast.
The situation is no different in my home state of Texas. According to a KTRK-TV report, in an informal survey conducted by a San Antonio car dealership, 1 in 10 respondents admitted to breaking more road rules than usual during quarantine. As reported by a Houston’s ABC-TV affiliate, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez tweeted that “traffic speeds seem to be out of control.”
According to Medical Xpress, “Police in Colorado, Indiana, Nebraska and Utah have clocked drivers going more than 100 miles per hour on highways. … Car crash death rates are on the rise in Massachusetts, and pedestrian deaths are on the rise in Nevada and Rhode Island. Car crashes and related deaths in Minnesota are more than double what they were at the same time period in previous years, and half of the deaths were due to speeding or careless/negligent driving.”
Extreme speeding has “become popular,” proclaimed a report by The Zebra, the nation’s leading insurance comparison site. “Being on the road has changed from just a means of transportation to a socially distant remedy to ‘lockdown fatigue.’ Not only does this mean drivers are more likely to rage-drive as a form of stress relief, drivers also might seek an adrenaline rush by driving faster on purpose.”
As USA Today’s Nathan Bomey reported in January, research firm IHS Markit, using a vehicle representative of the average vehicle currently on the road, shows that even small increases in speed led to much deadlier outcomes in vehicle crashes.
“The study found that at 40 mph, the driver of the Honda CR-V experienced ‘minimal intrusion.’ But at 50 mph, ‘there was noticeable deformation of the driver side door opening, dashboard and foot area.’ And at 56 mph, ‘the vehicle interior was significantly compromised, with the dummy’s sensors registering severe neck injuries and a likelihood of fractures to the long bones in the lower leg.’ … In the 50 mph and 56 mph crash tests, the dummy’s head went through the deployed airbag, smashing into the steering wheel and suffering what would likely be facial fractures or a severe brain injury,” reports Bomey. It was also pointed out that although newer vehicles might be safer, they probably would not fare too much better.
As people more and more start to get out and about, you must ask yourself: Are we about to trade one deadly epidemic problem for another more familiar one on our nation’s roadways?