IIHS: Pandemic lockdowns made rush-hour speeding, risky driving the new normal

In the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, speed increased during the morning and afternoon hours – and drivers never slowed down

In the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, the morning and afternoon commute speed increased – and drivers never slowed down.

The odds of a driver from Virginia driving at least 10 mph over the speed limit increased by just over 50 percent in the March-June 2020 period, compared with the same period a year earlier, a new study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety shows. . Federal data collected since then indicate that the increase in speeding and other risky driving continued into 2020 and 2021.

“The empty roads probably tempted drivers with a pandemic to hit the accelerator,” said Jessica Cicchino, vice president of research at IIHS. “But information gathered since the closures ended and the roads became full again suggests that risky driving has become the new norm.”

To learn more about the impact of pandemic lockdowns on driving, IIHS researchers analyzed data from more than 500 Virginia Department of Transportation speedometers and compared the proportion of vehicles exceeding the speed limit by at least 5 mph and 10 mph in March-June 2020 with the same period in 2019. They then estimate the change in the proportion of speeding drivers according to the time of day, the day of the week and the type of roadway.

Overall, traffic volume at the survey sites dropped by a quarter during the Virginia lockdown — which began with the closure of select businesses, such as restaurants, in mid-March 2020 and culminated with a statewide take-home order that lasted through mid-March. May. During the same period, the proportion of vehicles exceeding the speed limit by 10 mph or more increased by 30-40 percent on all roads other than rural arteries, where there was little change. On weekdays, the proportion of vehicles exceeding the speed limit by at least 10 mph rose 43 percent between 6 a.m. and 8:59 a.m. and 63 percent between 3 p.m. and 5:59 p.m.

Those numbers suggest that the absence of rush hour traffic has prompted motorists to accelerate. National statistics show that this behavior persisted even after traffic returned to pre-pandemic levels. Higher driving speeds continued in 2020 and 2021 and other forms of risky driving also became more common.

The number of road deaths rose 7 percent in 2020, despite a dramatic decrease in the mileage Americans drove. In particular, the number of fatal crashes involving speeding or alcohol and the number of deaths of occupants without seat belts rose sharply, according to figures from the National Highway Traffic Administration (NHTSA). The number of passenger car drivers involved in fatal crashes involving all three factors increased by a fifth, while the number of 18-20 year-old drivers who died with a blood alcohol level of 0.08 percent or more rose by 40 percent .

As drivers logged more miles in 2021, the pattern continued, according to early estimates from the NHTSA. The number of fatalities from speeding increased by a further 5 percent, the number of fatalities from occupants without seat belts increased by a further 3 percent, and the number of deaths in police-reported alcohol-related accidents increased by a further 5 percent from from the level of 2020.

“With nearly 43,000 deaths on US roads last year, we cannot accept this increase in dangerous driving,” Cicchino said. “We need to do double-duty in implementing proven solutions that have been shown to prevent speeding violations, such as automated speed enforcement and road designs that slow traffic.”


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