Current News

/

ArcaMax

Car crash deaths have surged during COVID-19 pandemic. Here's why

Emily Baumgaertner and Russ Mitchell, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES — It was a tally that shocked the experts: 38,680 deaths on U.S. roadways last year, the most since 2007 even though pandemic precautions had dramatically reduced driving.

“This was completely unprecedented,” said Ken Kolosh, a researcher at the nonprofit National Safety Council. “We didn’t know what was happening.”

One possibility was that stressed-out Americans were releasing their anxieties on the wide-open roads. He guessed that fatal accidents would decline in 2021 when traffic returned.

He was wrong. The latest evidence suggests that after decades of safety gains, the pandemic has made U.S. drivers more reckless — more likely to speed, drink or use drugs and leave their seatbelts unbuckled.

“I fear we’ve adopted some really unsafe driving habits, and they’re going to persist,” Kolosh said. “Our roads are less safe than they were pre-pandemic.”

Experts say that behavior on the road is likely a reflection of widespread feelings of isolation, loneliness and depression.

 

“We might decide: What does a seatbelt or another beer matter, anyway, when we’re in the middle of a pandemic?” said Shannon Frattaroli, a researcher at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The rise in motor vehicle deaths lines up with other pandemic-era trends: Alcohol sales have soared, drug overdoses have set new records, and homicides have seen their biggest increase on record.

COVID-19 marks “a sea change in psychology,” said Frank Farley, a professor of psychology at Temple University in Philadelphia, who views reckless driving as a form of rebellion — or what he calls “arousal breakout.”

“You’ve been cooped up, locked down, and have restrictions you chafe at,” he said. “So if you can have an arousal breakout, you want to take it.”

...continued

swipe to next page
©2021 Los Angeles Times. Visit at latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.