What Made Texas Roadways More Dangerous During Lockdown?
It seems like a paradox — although there were fewer drivers on the road during the Lone Star State’s pandemic stay-at-home order, there was also an uptick in traffic fatalities. Both local and national-level data sources indicate that this unexpected statistic is a product of reckless driving. Here’s a look at what the data shows.
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Dangerous driving in unprecedented times
According to estimates from the National Safety Council, Texas saw a 6 percent uptick in traffic fatalities between January and March of 2020. However, the state wasn’t under stay-at-home orders for the majority of that time. If we just look at March’s data, though, the difference is clear. Year-over-year, March showed a 14 percent increase in traffic deaths per mile driven. However, the data also showed an 8 decrease in overall deaths. In other words, despite the lower number of crashes, there were more deadly accidents.
What the experts are saying
What caused this? Academics, along with state and local officials, offered their anecdotal take on the matter.
Denton Police Department spokeswoman Amy Cunningham shared the experience of local officers, stating, “They noticed an uptick in the number of 100-plus-mile-an-hour vehicles that they were catching on radar specifically during the stay-at-home order.”
Texas Department of Transportation representative Emily McCann concurred, adding that speeding is a key factor in an accident’s severity. “People might be taking more risks because they have a false sense of security about the less traffic on the roadway,” she added.
Emanuel Robinson, a psychologist who studies decision-making, weighed in on the matter. He explained that drivers on less-congested roads are more prone to speeding because many drivers tend to take cues from their fellow road users.
“In some cases, people are driving along and, without cars in front of them to kind of buffer things, might start increasing their speed and not even realize it,” Robinson said. He further suggested that the pandemic has given drivers more stress, which has ultimately led to more risky driving behaviors.
Driving psychologist Samuel Charlton chimed in, adding, “For a lot of people, they just follow the car ahead of them, and if there’s nothing to follow, they’ll get caught out by a sharp curve or because they’re going too fast or they’re not paying attention. They miss some important instruction on the road, like a sign telling them there’s roadwork ahead or there’s a turn or whatever, and they lose control of the car.”
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While we may be living through stressful, unpredictable, and unprecedented times, it’s still important to observe speed limits and traffic safety laws. Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration suggests that 94 percent of all traffic fatalities are preventable, so please — follow your local traffic laws to make everyone’s commute safer.
Kimiko Kidd is a native Daytonian. She graduated from Wright State University with degrees in environmental science and sociology. She loves her trusty old Honda Civic, but dreams of owning a 1974 Ford Falcon XB with a custom paint job and a vintage Kawasaki Z1000. In her free time, Kimiko can be found watercolor-painting, baking muffins, collecting rocks, playing old-school Nintendo games, writing her novel, sewing stuffed animals, and cosplaying as her favorite Mad Max characters. See more articles by Kimiko.