Two years of isolation and disruption due to the pandemic is fueling a number of negative trends in society including a large uptick in vehicle crashes, according to a New York Times report.
The nation is experiencing its most severe increase in traffic fatalities since the 1940s. Deaths from vehicle crashes have generally been falling since the late 1960s, reaching a near all-time low in 2019.
But once COVID-19 hit, the trend reversed. In fact, per capita vehicle deaths rose 17.5% from the summer of 2019 to the summer of 2021, reports the Times.
People’s frustration and anger is coming out behind the wheel in the form of risky driving behaviors — from speeding to road rage to red light running.
A cognitive scientist interviewed by the Times reporter explained it this way: When a driver gets angry, it generates energy. How do they dissipate that energy? One way is by slamming their foot on the accelerator.
Speeding is a factor in more than a quarter of all traffic fatalities, according to the National Safety Council (NSC). Moreover, the NSC has seen a link between more aggressive driving behaviors, including speeding, during the pandemic and the rise in roadway fatalities.
Rising drug abuse — and therefore, impaired driving — during the pandemic also likely contributed to the increase in traffic deaths, reports the Times.
The proportion of drivers testing positive for opioids nearly doubled after March 2020, compared to the previous six months. At the same time, marijuana prevalence increased by about 50%, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Experts appear to agree: The pandemic has brought out the worst in drivers, with risky driving behaviors negating decades of progress in preventing fatalities on U.S. roadways.