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Motor Vehicle Fatality Rate Jumps During Lockdown

Officials Say Fewer Accidents but Higher Percentage Are More Serious

Motor Vehicle Fatality Rate Jumps During LockdownAs the COVID-19 pandemic has spread across the nation, and New Jersey, like other states, has imposed social-distancing measures, the number of vehicles on state highways has declined dramatically. When full shelter-in-place restrictions were in effect, New York and New Jersey both saw an approximate reduction in traffic congestion of 60%.

There’s a bit of a silver lining to the lighter traffic patterns—the actual number of accidents and fatalities also has dropped precipitously. April 2020 had the lowest rate of motor vehicle accident deaths in New Jersey in half a century.

Officials are not surprised at the significant decline in collisions, as research has long indicated a direct correlation between total vehicle miles driven and the number of accidents. The trend is most commonly associated with significant changes in the price of gas—as prices rise, people travel fewer miles, resulting in fewer accidents. That’s the good news.

What has surprised officials, though, is that the rate of serious and fatal accidents has spiked sharply. Typically, when gas prices change, and the number of accidents fluctuates, the percentage of serious or fatal crashes remains constant. During the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the percentage of fatal accidents has gone up markedly. The National Safety Council (NSC) says statistics indicate that March motor vehicle accident deaths nationwide were up 14% compared to the same period in 2019.

  • In New York City, where traffic was down by an estimated 80%, there were actually more traffic deaths than the year before.

Many officials attribute the higher fatality rate to significantly increased speeds on the roads. With far less traffic, motorists are inclined to push down the gas pedal a bit more. Consider the data from the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, where the average speed during commuter morning drive time in 2019 was 13 miles per hour and a year later was approximately 52 miles per hour.

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