The 2020 pandemic emptied many of America’s streets while people stayed home. Paradoxically, that caused a sharp spike in traffic deaths. This unexpected phenomenon has started new conversations about how and why our roads are so dangerous.
Now Christina Goldbaum, writing for the New York Times, has a new article on the subject.
The spike in traffic deaths defied historical trends: Economic downturns and reduced congestion typically lead to fewer fatal crashes, federal researchers say. But during the pandemic, it seemed that drivers who felt cooped up in their homes flocked to wide open streets.
New York was not an outlier. Across the country, fatality rates for traffic crashes increased for the first time in years, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a federal agency. Between April and June, the fatality rate rose to around 30 percent higher than the first three months of the year, federal researchers found.
The spike can be explained, in no small part, by the coronavirus crisis.
I previously wrote about this topic the last time it hit the rounds. The short explanation is that our streets and roads are designed for dangerous behavior but, in the past, this dangerousness was muted by congestion. Drivers couldn’t take full advantage of our giant roads when they were stuck in traffic. But with the streets now emptied, the drivers that remain are free to be as reckless as they like.
The moral of the story is the same. We must seriously rethink how we’re building our streets. Their dangerousness wasn’t an accident. It’s the result of decades of building infrastructure that allows as many cars as possible to move as fast as possible. That wasn’t safe before and it certainly isn’t safe now. We need slow the cars and prioritize safe behavior.