On the Road Again: Driving through COVID-19

Face it, right now is an ‘interesting’ time in our county… for a variety of reasons. The least of these reasons is our roadways. For months, the pandemic kept us quarantined. Today, many are still sequestered in their homes. Yet, Illinois saw an 11% increase in roadway fatalities in the first three months of the year. How can this be with a lockdown in place? With a COVID-19 pandemic resurgence, more and more people are supposed to be at home. More and more people are working from home. In Chicago, rush hour traffic is nearly desolate in place of the usual bumper to bumper traffic. One would think we should be nearly accident free. That would be an inaccurate assumption.

So, what is happening? Why is it that when are ‘grounded’ by the pandemic and statistics indicate that there are fewer drivers on the roads, why are we seeing an unexpected increase in roadway fatalities?

According to the Washington Post, the answer is quite simple. With open roadways, people are driving more recklessly. Average speeds have increased significantly above the posted speed limit, in fact, more than doubling in many cities.

Less congestion, plus wide-open roads for motorists, is a recipe for disaster. Furthermore, when you account for some drivers having a bit of “rust” on them for not driving as much during this period of time, it adds to the fateful equation. The roads, while mostly devoid of commuters, are also filled with younger drivers who are out of school, home from school with time on their hands and a vehicle at their disposal. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the risk of motor vehicle crashes is higher among teens aged 16-19 than among any other age group. In fact, per mile driven, teen drivers in this age group are nearly three times more likely than drivers aged 20 and older to be in a fatal crash. Another factor is that the pandemic has ‘driven’ many off of public transportation and on to bicycles, scooters and walking, creating greater hazards for drivers looking to avoid these added elements to our roadways.

So, understanding the cause is helpful, but what of the solutions? How do we prevent future fatalities during a pandemic? As a Trial Attorney and Partner with Kaveny + Kroll (www.kavenykroll.com) in Chicago, specializing in transportation accidents and fatalities, here are a couple of suggestions for staying as safe on the road as are at home:

  • Regardless of the chill in the air, do not underestimate the increase of pedestrians and potentially, bicycle traffic, particularly in urban areas.
  • Obey speed limits, even if the roads are clear and traffic is light.
  • Follow local and state directives to stay off the roads if officials have directed drivers to do so.
  • Some states have asked drivers to shelter in place and stay off the roads except in certain situations.
  • Practice defensive driving and drive attentively, avoiding distractions. When you combine distracting driving with excessive speed, the risk of a fatality greatly increases.

COVID-19 has shown us that much of the damage can be collateral, whether through the economy, social interaction, civil unrest or through increased accidents on our roadways. This is not the time to let down our guard in any of these areas, as we slowly transition into our ‘new normal’.