New report says the pandemic has even made driving more deadly
The coronavirus pandemic has not only been dangerous for the more than 5.2 million people killed by COVID-19 worldwide (according to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore), but also, for all the other problems it has encouraged. These include people neglecting non-COVID-related health conditions and increased depression and substance abuse. And another problem aggravated by the pandemic, according to the Los Angeles Times, is fatal car crashes.
Reporters Emily Baumgaertner and Russ Mitchell, this week in the Times, explain, “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…. Experts say that behavior on the road is likely a reflection of widespread feelings of isolation, loneliness and depression.”
In early June, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that 38,680 deaths had occurred on U.S. roadways in 2020 — which was the highest number since 2007. The Times discussed this trend with various interviewees, including National Safety Council researcher Ken Kolosh, who told the publication, “I fear we’ve adopted some really unsafe driving habits, and they’re going to persist. Our roads are less safe than they were pre-pandemic.”
Another researcher, Shannon Frattaroli of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told the Times, “We might decide: What does a seatbelt or another beer matter, anyway, when we’re in the middle of a pandemic?”
Frank Farley, a psychology professor at Temple University in Philadelphia, believes that COVID-19 has brought about “a sea change in psychology” — and in terms of mental health, it isn’t an improvement for the better.
Farley told the Times, “You’ve been cooped up, locked down, and have restrictions you chafe at. So, if you can have an arousal breakout, you want to take it.”
According to Baumgaertner and Mitchell, an “astonishing” combination came about in the United States in 2020: less driving on the whole, but more driving-related fatalities and injuries. In other words, Americans have been driving less during the pandemic, but not driving as carefully when they do drive.
“What made last year’s increase so astonishing was that the total miles driven — an estimate calculated by sampling traffic on various roadways — fell by more than 13% as cities locked down and more people worked from home,” Baumgaertner and Mitchell report. “For every 100 million miles driven last year, 1.37 people died — a 23% rise from 2019. Mileage estimates are not yet available for 2021.”
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