NHTSA Sounds Alarm over Risky Pandemic Driving

The coronavirus pandemic has not only changed the commuting patterns for hundreds of millions of Americans overnight, but it has also brought with it a dramatic change in driving behaviors. The early weeks of the pandemic that included lockdowns in cities and states had not only resulted in empty city streets, but in some places a greater number of tickets written for speeds over 100 mph. And that doesn’t even include the multiple coast-to-coast records that were set and reset over a course of several months.

The situation has become bad enough to warrant an open letter to American drivers from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which noted a median 22% increase in speeds in several metropolitan areas, and other disturbing trends such as dramatically decreased seatbelt use during the month of April 2020.

“Preliminary data tells us that during the national health emergency, fewer Americans drove but those who did took more risks and had more fatal crashes,” the agency stated in part.

The agency’s message echoed a number of reports last spring of a climb in reckless driving, which was believed to have been prompted by less traffic on the roads and less police enforcement. The aversion to air travel that persisted throughout last spring and summer is also expected to have an effect of its own, in addition to car travel during the winter holidays of the past two months.

“Most fatal crashes are linked to risky behavior,” the NHTSA added. “If you fail to obey the speed limit, to wear your seat belt, and to drive sober, your risk for a crash, and a fatal one at that, goes up. The law enforcement and EMS community across the country have made your road safety a priority—but they are already stretched thin and at risk. Please do not further burden them with your poor driving choices.”

The letter comes after several weeks of record coronavirus hospitalizations around the country, leading to hospital bed shortages in several major metro areas. Needless to say, the pandemic has placed a strain emergency medical services around the country, in some cases leading to delayed response times and staff shortages.

“Now is the time to reverse 2020’s terrible trend,” the agency added. “The men and women at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are asking every one of our Nation’s drivers to stop taking unnecessary risks on the road. Let’s remember our safe driving practices—you may end up saving a life today.”

Read the letter in its entirety here.

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