During COVID-19 when cases spiked, Massachusetts drivers vacated roadways, but the number of car accidents increased. Why?
Remote Work Decreases Need to Commute
The pandemic has drastically upended Massachusetts residents’ lives. Particularly, the number of remote workers has greatly increased. Pre-pandemic, 17% of U.S. employees worked remotely 5 or more days a week. During the pandemic, this increased to 44%. Without the need to commute to and from work, traffic decreased throughout the Commonwealth. However, when the number of commuters decreased, the number of car accidents did not follow suit.
More Accidents, Fewer Drivers. How Can This Be?
According to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT), in April 2020 traffic decreased by 50%, but the number of deaths on roadways doubled. 28 people died in car crashes in April 2020 compared to 27 in April 2019 (when the number of people on the road was twice what it was in 2020). How can this be?
Explaining this discrepancy, experts point to a variety of factors. Drivers tend to increase their speeds on empty roads, especially on streets that were normally crowded pre-pandemic. Further, with fewer cars on the road around them, drivers feel more comfortable texting and driving – a practice Massachusetts outlawed in February 2020 with its “hands-free” law.
Speeding and using technology while operating a vehicle impacts drivers and those they share the road with, but such behavior impacts pedestrians too.
Who’s at Risk?
Given the statistics from MassDOT, it is clear to see increased speeds and distracted driving have significant consequences for motor vehicle operators, but pedestrians are affected as well.
Due to the initial closing of restaurants, gyms, parks, and playgrounds, many Massachusetts residents became reacquainted with activities like walking, running, rollerblading, and biking. The uptick in outdoor activities increased the number of pedestrians across the Commonwealth, making it especially important for drivers to practice safety techniques when behind the wheel.
In compliance with state guidelines, many businesses are reopening and increasing their capacities, meaning pedestrians may soon retire to their pre-pandemic routines. Will these changes curb vehicular accidents? Unfortunately, probably not.
Is Reopening the Solution? Not So Much.
Massachusetts is on Phase III, Step 2 of its reopening plan. Phase III, Step 2 allows for 50% capacity at indoor performance venues and indoor recreational activities and a decrease in restrictions for restaurants. Will reopening Massachusetts lead to a decrease in car crashes? Likely not.
As businesses open their doors to customers once again, Massachusetts residents are likely to reach for their car keys instead of their running sneakers, rollerblades, or bicycles.
This return to the road will likely prevent speeding and reckless driving to some extent given the influx of cars. Therefore, the number of fatal car crashes may decline. However, in the “new normal,” the number of common, less deadly accidents, such as rear-end collisions, will probably rise.
It may seem like a losing game, but there is plenty you can do to avoid an accident.
What You Can Do to Prevent an Accident
With people returning to the road to visit their favorite businesses it is important to do your part to avoid an accident.
Here are some simple safety tips to consider the next time you get behind the wheel:
- Put your phone away and use your car’s Bluetooth – Cellphones can be a major distraction when you’re in the driver’s seat. To limit the temptation to answer texts or check notifications put your phone on silent while you drive. If your car has Bluetooth, make sure your phone is linked so you can obey Massachusetts law and answer calls hands-free while driving.
- Obey the speed limit – Speed limits are posted for a reason so make sure you follow them! Speeding is a huge contributor to the increased number of fatal crashes during the pandemic.
- Limit distractions – Refrain from eating, drinking, applying makeup, or any other activity that will take your eyes off the road.
- Wear your seatbelt – (and make sure all of your passengers do too)! This will prevent certain injuries if you are involved in a crash.
- Don’t drive under the influence – Restaurants are extending capacity limits and as the pandemic subsides bars will reopen eventually too. Always designate a driver or take an Uber or Lyft if you are going out for drinks.
- Be prepared to yield to pedestrians – As mentioned earlier, over the past year there has been a spike in pedestrians. Be extra careful when passing through crosswalks, intersections, or driving near parks and schools. Make sure to look out for children too!