Less traffic but more traffic deaths during COVID-19

Despite less traffic on the roads overall, the pandemic has led to a worrying increase in distracted driving behaviors – some of which may have contributed to a number of motor vehicle fatalities in 2020 that has increased at the fastest pace. faster in 13 years. That’s the message of several new scans tracking the impact of trends and outcomes amid COVID-19.

Key points to remember

  • New research reveals changes in driving habits and an increase in the number of road deaths during the pandemic.
  • Even though Americans generally drove less, many took more risks – and that may have contributed to the increased death toll.
  • Car insurance premiums have increased 16% nationally over the past 10 years, correlating with the increase in distracted driving.

False sense of security leads to bad habits

One in four drivers think the roads are safer today than they were before the pandemic. And that belief has led some of them to take more risk while driving, according to the 2021 Distracted Driving Traveler Risk Index, a national survey.

These driving habits encouraged by a pandemic included:

  • Sending SMS or e-mail (26% did so, compared to 19% before the pandemic).
  • Social media check (20%, up from 13% before the pandemic).
  • Take videos and photos (19%, compared to 10% before the pandemic).
  • Online shopping (17%, compared to 8% before the pandemic).

Chris Hayes, second vice president of worker compensation and transportation, risk control, says falling traffic volumes with the onset of the pandemic “may have given drivers a false sense of security.”

Not only has distracted driving increased, but data from the insurer’s telematics program has shown that speeding has also become more common, he says.

People can also feel work-related pressures, notes Hayes. One in four respondents said they answer calls and texts related to their work behind the wheel because:

  • 46% said it could be an emergency.
  • 29% said their supervisor would be upset if they didn’t respond.
  • 22% said they could not “mentally stop” from working.

The data probably underestimates the impact

While the Insurance Institute for Road Safety (IIHS) says there are no reliable estimates of the number of crashes directly caused by distracted driving, it believes that “statistics based on Police-reported accident data almost certainly underestimate the role of distraction in fatalities. “

In its report, Travelers say the riskier driving habits that surfaced during the pandemic may have contributed in part to more – not less – dangerous roads. According to preliminary estimates from the National Safety Council (NSC), motor vehicle deaths in 2020 were up 8% from 2019, the highest percentage increase in 13 years. And that increase came even as mileage fell 13%, according to the NSC.

Distracted driving can of course be the result of many things, from sipping coffee to adjusting the air conditioning, but the IIHS also cites research showing the clearer link between cell phone use and distraction. noting that the risk of an accident is two to six times greater handling a cell phone. “

These distractions can lead to so-called “inattentive blindness,” according to the IIHS, in which drivers fail to understand or process information from objects on the roadway, even when looking at them directly.

More distraction equals higher insurance costs

Generally, the higher the accident rate, the more insurance companies have to pay in claims. Insurers then pass these costs on to drivers in the form of higher premiums.

The Insurance Policy and Research Center of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners reports that auto insurance premiums have increased 16% nationally since 2011, “correlating with the increase in accidents in distracted driving ”.

What Drivers Can Do to Stay Safe

Many states have taken steps to reduce distracted driving. According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, 48 states and the District of Columbia now ban text messaging by drivers, 24 states plus DC ban all cell phone use by drivers, and 37 states and DC ban all cell phone use by drivers novices. But, as the IIHS notes, surveys show that a large percentage of drivers do not obey their state’s laws.

As part of Distracted Driving Awareness Month, held annually in April, experts are advising drivers to review their habits and refresh their efforts to drive distraction-free. Here are some prevention steps to keep in mind:

  • Set smartphones to ‘Do not disturb’ or enable the optional ‘Do not disturb while driving’ setting on iPhones to automatically turn on when the car is in motion.
  • Use voice commands (available in newer cars) to control infotainment, navigation, and portable devices, rather than touch screens.
  • Build talk and break times into your work schedule so you (and your employees or colleagues) don’t feel pressured into eating or answering calls and texts while driving.
  • Designate a passenger to be your “designated texter”.
  • If you need to take a call or read a text message, always stop first and park your car in a safe place.

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