Deaths. The number of deaths is up 17% in June, but not for the reason you think. The surge in deaths has nothing to do with COVID-19. We are all traveling less, but our roads are not any less dangerous. Even with the rebound in VMT (vehicle miles traveled) relative to January, driving is still well short of normal for June and July, because those months are normally much heavier traveling months than January. Again, that doesn’t mean those who are driving on the roads are any less distracted.
We are seeing as much—if not even more—of a reduction in driving in rural communities. This is mostly due to people not visiting friends and family as much—and most of their driving now tends to be as a result of those designated as essential workers and people going to important destinations. These are those folks making trips to the grocery store, pharmacy, hardware, and other big-box stores, you name it, didn’t decline, which is why those behind the wheel are still looking at their connected devices and not at the road ahead. So, despite the coronavirus shutdowns around the country we are not seeing a decline in distracted driving. In fact, it only led to more people paying less attention to the road and perhaps driving all that much faster. (My guess is that they didn’t think any police officers were going to stop them for fear of catching the virus, in the early days of the shutdown, at least.)
Why so many accidents? Perhaps people continue to believe they had false sense of security. With less people on the road, they assumed they could multitask. But the harsh reality is multitasking impairs performance—whether there is only one vehicle on the road or many. We know that when the brain is experiencing an increased workload, information processing slows down and a driver isn’t able to respond quickly to what is happening on the road, and smack, an accident.
Let’s be serious here. We need to avoid all distractions on the roads—cognitive, manual, and visual. Whatever, Drivers still are proving to be clueless, and they aren’t getting it and the numbers show it.
Based on preliminary estimates from the first six months of the year, the National Safety Council says the United States experienced an estimated 20% jump in the death rate compared to the same six-month period in 2019. This rate increase comes in spite of a 17% drop in the number of miles driven between January and June.
Let’s narrow in on the month of June—remember June; many states had just ended three straight months of quarantine. While the number of miles driven remained 13% lower than the previous year, the deaths were up 17% in June, while the rate of death per 100 million miles driven were ridiculous. 34.4%. June was the first month since the pandemic that both the number of fatalities and the death rate increased in a single month.
I personally hate to report these numbers since the National Safety Council had been reporting some progress. After three straight years of rising fatality numbers between 2015 and 2017, the country had been experiencing a leveling off and a small decline in overall fatalities.
Some steps that the National Safety Council is taking to improve safety on our roads includes urging drivers to obey speed limits; practice defensive driving; stay engaged with teen drivers; follow state and local directives; be aware of increased pedestrian and bicycle traffic; and join organizations such as Road to Zero Coalition, which is a 1,500-member group committed to eliminating roadway deaths by 2050.
But we are going to need to do more if we want drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road. Perhaps it time we tell the folks in Washington to stop arguing about the nonsense and focus on saving lives. The more they ignore improving infrastructure, the more lives we are going to lose. And one life is too many. Hey folks, let’s focus on the task at hand. I can only hope we don’t hear about a rise in pedestrian distractions.
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