Fatalities on U.S. highways rose 4.6% during the first nine months of 2020 despite coronavirus lockdowns that curtailed driving early in the year. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates 28,190 people died in traffic crashes from January through September of last year, up from 26,941 during the same period in 2019. Final statistics for the full year will not be released until this fall.
“Preliminary data tells us that during the national health emergency, fewer Americans drove, but those who did took more risks and had more fatal crashes,” NHTSA stated in a letter addressed to the nation’s drivers. Traffic deaths rose 0.6% during the first quarter of 2020, but fell 1.1% in the second quarter as coronavirus lockdowns restricted movement. Fatalities spiked 13.1% from July through September, the agency said.
“We think the big culprit is speeding,” said Jonathan Adkins, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association. Early in the pandemic, drivers found open roads and drove faster. The behavior continued even as traffic volumes recovered, Adkins said.
“A big factor here is the lack of enforcement,” Adkins added. “We heard from many states that traffic stops have declined during COVID-19. Drivers feel like they can speed and get away with it.”
According to NHTSA, recent reports show a 22% increase in vehicle speeds in several metropolitan areas over pre-pandemic numbers. Also, a study found 65% of drivers treated at trauma centers from serious crashes last year had drugs or alcohol in their systems. That number was 50.6% before the pandemic, NHTSA said. The agency added that fewer people are also wearing seat belts. NHTSA warns motorists to never drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol, to wear seat belts and to reduce their speeds in order to stay safe. Children should also ride in a proper car seat for their size.
The Army saw a decrease in overall off-duty private motor vehicle (PMV) mishaps in fiscal 2020 but experienced an increase in PMV mishaps in the first four months of this fiscal year. Mishaps are up 43% for the same time period from last year, with double the number of PMV-2 mishaps and a 40% increase in PMV-4 mishaps. The largest number of these mishaps (eight) occurred in November and more than doubled the five-year average.
At least nine of the 22 overall fatal PMV mishaps this fiscal year involved Soldier discipline issues, including alcohol, speed, failure to wear a seat belt and running a red light. Speed is the leading causal factor, followed closely by driving under the influence.
As COVID restrictions ease and we move into the start of the motorcycle-riding season, vacations, and the large number of summer permanent change of station (PCS) moves the Army makes annually, we need to take a hard look at what we can do to prevent additional mishaps. The U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center (USACRC) website, located at https://safety.army.mil, has a long list of tools to aid leaders in helping prevent mishaps, including:
· The Off-Duty Safety Awareness Presentation covers all off-duty related mishaps such as driving, weapons, home and water safety. It’s customizable to meet each organization’s safety training requirements.
· The Travel Risk Planning System (TRiPS), although no longer required, is an excellent tool to help Soldiers and leaders with planning and implementing those summer vacations and PCS moves.
· The USACRC website also provides everything from PMV checklists to regulatory and training guidance and brochures such as Accident Risk Assessments for Individuals and How to Safely Render Roadside Assistance.
I encourage you to check out the USACRC website and use these tools to help us get ahead of the increase in the rising number of off-duty PMV mishaps this fiscal year and save our Soldiers and family members from becoming another number in our statistical files.
Sources: NHTSA and USACRC Ground Division / Research, Studies and Analysis trend data.