The Pandemic's Traffic Safety Crisis, Explained

It's another one of those crises within a crisis, but driving has been more dangerous during the pandemic.

January 5, 2021, 7:00 AM PST

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


COVID-19 Mobility

Robi Jaffrey / Shutterstock

Christina Goldbaum revisits one of the tragedies inside the tragedy from the pandemic during 2020: increasing numbers of traffic fatalities.

Goldbaum cites the example of New York City specifically: "243 people died in traffic crashes in New York City in 2020 — making it the deadliest year on record since Mayor Bill de Blasio introduced his signature plan to improve street safety in 2014," but the trend was evident in locations all over the country.

Given how many fewer drivers were on the road this year, the traffic fatalities of 2020 defied precedent and logic. "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," writes Goldbaum. New York officials cited in the article say that most fatal crashes in 2020 involved vehicles traveling at high speeds, late at night, outside the urban core of Manhattan.

The article describes the causes of these effects, but much of the evidence is circumstantial. Police did write a lot more tickets for speeding in California, New York City, and Georgia, according to evidence cited in the article, but police in Minneapolis were widely reported as decreasing traffic enforcement after nationwide protests in response to the killing of George Floyd. 

The article concludes with a soundbite from Danny Harris, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, making an appeal to reject the car-centric status quo of pre-pandemic life in the United States.

It's also worth noting that with hospitals and intensive care units full all over the country, now is not a good time 

Friday, January 1, 2021 in The New York Times

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