According to a recent Reuters analysis, the reduction in traffic over the past several months has done its part to reduce car crashes. Unfortunately, in several cities Reuters considered, the percentage of crashes that involved a fatality is up.
Here in New York City in April, the ratio of deadly crashes to all crashes grew by 167% compared to the same time last year. The rate of fatalities per miles driven also jumped by 37% in April over last year, says the National safety Council.
At the same time, overall crashes in New York City are down from this time last year. For example, April this year saw 4,103 crashes, which was way down from the 16,808 of a year ago. That’s a 76% drop. Fatalities are also down, but not as much — just 35%. And, on a per-crash basis, fatalities have more than doubled, from 1.2 fatalities per 1,000 crashes to 3.2.
What is going on? Researchers from several sources indicate that the problem may be a small group of super-speeders. For example, in Ohio between March 28 and April 19, average speeds were only up slightly.
“The level of extreme speeding is really shocking,” said an Ohio State University professor. “What we’re seeing here — the fact that there’s less traffic and more speeding — I think that’s evidence that traffic is a great controller of speed.”
Crashes at higher speeds are much more likely to result in fatalities.
Who is on the roads? Essential workers, delivery drivers — and you
The lessons learned from this time period may help us understand traffic fatalities better. For example, are we relying too much on traffic itself to slow people down? If so, what happens when cities like New York take steps to speed traffic up?
Moreover, some cities are currently working to reduce speeds overall. Can the public be relied upon to comply with these new, lower speed limits?
Can we solve the super-speeder problem by targeting super speeders directly, through law enforcement? What about personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits? Will super speeders be more considerate if they know they could be charged with reckless driving or forced to pay for the injuries and losses they cause?
“They don’t think anything will happen to them and they are not considering their fellow road users and the wellbeing of them,” one roadway expert told Reuters.
With fewer vehicles on the road, some people are taking advantage of freely moving traffic and ignoring speed limits and other traffic laws. As the Reuters investigation found, this is enough to drive up fatalities. Many of the victims of these collisions are going to be the people who can least afford it. We need to hold these super speeders accountable for their actions.