Did you know the Rolling Stones released a new single called “Living in a Ghost Town” in April of this year? Mick Jagger wrote the song a year ago for an album they’ve been churning away at for a few years and in advance of their upcoming tour. However, Jagger and Keith Richards agreed that the quarantine the world was experiencing provided serendipitous timing.
2020 has indeed felt like living in a ghost town. New stations and drone footage revealed empty streets around the world in March and April. With this being the case, logic would tell you that speeding, car crashes, and fatalities would plummet as a result, but interestingly enough, that was not the case.
Drivers Turn Ghost Towns into Road Courses
With fewer cars on the road, some of those who did leave the safety of their homes took advantage of the empty streets and used them as their own personal racetracks. In major cities, the ratio of fatalities to collisions increased significantly. New York saw an increase of 167%, Boston 65%, and Chicago a staggering 292%. Across the United States, the fatality rate increased by 14% in March and 37% in April compared to the same time in 2019.
Interestingly enough, the average speed didn’t seem to increase in some cities; however, the level of excessive, reckless speeding increased significantly, signifying that traffic plays a critical role in driving speed. Without the traffic governors, many people used the roads as free for all. The European Transport Safety Council acknowledged they experienced the same in places like Australia, London, Denmark, and Belgium.
Deaths Per 1,000 Crashes Spike Due to Speeding
While the actual number of both collisions and fatal crashes dropped from 2019 to 2020, the number of deaths per 1,000 crashes increased, as reported in places like New York City. With more cars on the road, minor collisions and fender benders occur regularly. Sans traffic, though, people have put the pedal to the medal, and when they crash, they crash hard. Add to that equation the re-emergence of bicyclists, runners, and pedestrians, and you have a recipe for disaster.
Since speeding is already a top cause of death in the United States, it stands to reason that more speeders result in more fatalities. Despite the COVID-19-related decrease in traffic, the number of people killed in auto accidents in Los Angeles has been about the same in 2020 as it was in 2019. Comparing year-over-year numbers illustrates a worrisome increase when those two factors are taken into consideration. Comparatively, Los Angeles has had nearly as many deaths from crashes this year as it has homicides, 86 versus 89, respectively.
Cities and States Put Parameters in Place To Mitigate Risk
Police and paramedics are still considered essential workers, and they do what they can to keep the roads safe—ghost town or not. While most people were hunkering down, officers around the country kept busy stopping reckless drivers. In California, that resulted in an 87% increase in speeding tickets for folks going over 100 mph. In Los Angeles in particular, the city altered the functioning of its traffic lights to operate individually, thus preventing drivers from being able to have a clear path of green lights and open roads.
Police and Safety Councils encourage bicyclists, runners, and pedestrians to be extra aware and cautious of their environment. While safety should always be a situational concern, it is especially crucial as cities re-open, and more people venture outside. You may think that fatalities will normalize once traffic increases again, but it is possible that there will be a period of re-acclimation.
As cities put parameters in place to address increased speeding and avoid unnecessary car crashes, community members should do their part, as well. The roads are for everyone and should be treated as such. As enticing as an open-road course to yourself maybe, it’s not worth the ticket, let alone the potential fatality. Drive, bicycle, and run safely because, hey, we’re all in this together, remember? Stay safe everyone!
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