Has the pandemic ruined our safe driving practices?

Fatal vehicle crashes have increased despite fewer people being on the roads during COVID-19. Part of the reason for the increase in deaths may be a decline in safe driving behaviors, as recent data shows drivers have been more likely to speed, drive impaired, and not wear a seatbelt during the pandemic.

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Rachel Bodine graduated from college with a BA in English. She has since worked as a Feature Writer in the insurance industry and gained a deep knowledge of state and countrywide insurance laws and rates. Her research and writing focus on helping readers understand their insurance coverage and how to find savings. Her expert advice on insurance has been featured on sites like PhotoEnforced, All...

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Dan Walker graduated with a BS in Administrative Management in 2005 and has been working in his family’s insurance agency, FCI Agency, for 15 years (BBB A+). He is licensed as an agent to write property and casualty insurance, including home, auto, umbrella, and dwelling fire insurance. He’s also been featured on sites like Reviews.com and Safeco. He reviews content, ensuring that ex...

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Reviewed by Daniel Walker
Licensed Auto Insurance Agent Daniel Walker

UPDATED: Dec 8, 2021

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Things to Remember

  • Total fatal crashes in America increased over 7% from 2019 to 2020
  • Crashes from reckless driving behaviors have increased significantly during the pandemic
  • Speeding has become a major problem in the majority of states

With COVID-19 resulting in many employees switching to working at home, the roads during commute time have been clearer than normal. The natural assumption is that there would be a decline in car crashes with fewer people on the roads.

Unfortunately, this has not proven to be the case, leading to the question of if COVID-19 has ruined safe driving practices for America’s drivers. Preliminary studies by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) have revealed that fatal crashes due to reckless driving behaviors have increased since the start of COVID-19.

Read on to learn about how lack of seatbelt use, drug use, drunk driving, and speeding have all increased.

Rise in Fatal Crashes Since Start of COVID-19

Looking at the overall numbers reveals that total crash fatalities in the U.S. increased 7.15% from 2019 to 2020. While this may not seem like a large leap, it’s a big increase considering people are driving less. In addition, when we break apart this number by causes, it’s clear that risky driving behaviors have contributed to the rise in fatalities.

Some of the riskiest driving behaviors are impaired driving, speeding, and not wearing a seatbelt. Our look into the NHTSA’s numbers revealed the following about fatal crashes from reckless driving behaviors:

  • The number of unbelted fatal crashes went from 21.9% pre-pandemic to an average of 26.8% during the pandemic
  • The number of drug and alcohol-related fatal crashes increased significantly, with cannabinoid-related crashes increasing over 10% during the pandemic and alcohol-related crashes increasing around 4%
  • Drivers with BACs of 15+ involved in fatal crashes increased about 5% from pre-COVID-19 levels

Fatalities from speeding have also increased during COVID-19. According to the Governer’s Highway Safety Administration (GHSA), multiple states have recorded increases in speeding, with some states recording drivers speeding at over 100mph. Currently, organizations like the GHSA and IIHS are working on initiatives to reduce speeding across the U.S.

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Explanations Behind Increase in Reckless Driving Behaviors During COVID-19

One of the most likely reasons that crashes have increased is that the NHTSA’s past driving data shows drivers are more likely to speed and drive recklessly on rural roads with fewer people, simply because there is less traffic to slow them down. Since COVID-19 has decreased the number of people driving, these behaviors have transferred over to urban roads.

And since speeding makes it harder to avoid objects, such as a deer in the middle of the road, and makes it easier to lose control of the vehicle, it’s no wonder that driving fatalities during COVID-19 have increased.

As for other reckless behaviors, like impaired driving, preliminary studies by sources like the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) show that drinking has increased during COVID-19. This may partly be due to people struggling to adjust to the sense of isolation brought on by social distancing and working from home. Naturally, increases in drinking and drug use have led to more cases of impaired driving.

The decline in safe driving practices has made the roads less safe during COVID-19, which is why it’s important for individuals to make sure they are staying alert on the roads and following the law. Driving safely and practicing defensive driving techniques can help reduce your risk of a crash, even if others on the roads are driving recklessly.

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