One of the few silver linings of the COVID-19 lockdowns — lower death counts on America’s roads — appears to be fraying badly. According to the National Safety Council, motor vehicle fatality rates rose an astonishing 23.5 percent in May, 2020 compared to the same month a year prior. Among the states seeing the greatest increase in roadway deaths were New Hampshire (63%), Connecticut (39%), Louisiana (15%), Missouri (12%), Arkansas (10%) and North Carolina (6%).
While the NSC did not speculate on the precise causes of the increase, its finding accord with the facts that:
- Americans are driving faster given that many highways have become less crowded due to the lockdown.
- The American vehicle fleet is now averaging 12 years of age — that’s old. Older cars often lack the safety features of newer ones, as well as being less reliable and presumably more likely to suffer mechanical failure.
- The psychological stresses wrought by the pandemic do not simply disappear once one is in a moving vehicle, and Americans “on edge” may be more likely to act out with destructive behavior on the highways.
- Distracted driving — be it caused by an argument with a passenger or via a cyberdistraction — continues to be a factor in many road deaths, and the social media giants and telecom providers have done zilch to disincentive this behavior.
- Our national highway infrastructure is decaying and, despite the promises of politicians to repair it, little work has been done in the past several years to make roads safer.
While the continuing carnage on American roads — some 38,000 souls each year — may seem small in comparison to the devastating toll presently being wrought by COVID-19, road deaths are considered a serious social disease by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which notes that “road traffic crashes are a leading cause of death in the United States for people aged 1–54 and the leading cause of non-natural death for healthy U.S. citizens residing or traveling abroad.”