COVID-19 Alert: More risky drivers on the road

Brownwood Bulletin
Courtney Parrott

The pandemic has brought with it many changes to our daily lives. One change is a reduction in traffic on the highways. This would seem like a positive change, but, surprisingly, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is reporting that our less traveled roads have given rise to more risky driving behaviors and a higher fatality rate per vehicle miles traveled. While many are limiting their driving to trips for necessities, many of the drivers that are not limiting their driving are more apt to take risks including speeding and not consistently wearing seat belts.

Drivers are taking advantage of the more open roadways to speed. These drivers may have the impression that the more open roads are safer and law enforcement is not making as many traffic stops due to the pandemic. However, NHTSA reports that many states are seeing increased speeding citations during the pandemic with speeds above what is typically seen. In our own NHTSA region in Texas speeding fatalities as a percentage of total fatalities has increased by 39% just in the month of June. Increased speed is associated with higher fatality rates which we are seeing during this time. 

Rollover crashes are also up during the pandemic with more ejection fatalities. This is due to more drivers and passengers taking risks by not wearing seat belts. NHTSA is reporting more crashes with ejections due to unrestrained drivers and passengers. In the same month of June, nationally, unrestrained fatalities are up by over 15%. Fatal rollover crashes are speed-related more often than fatal non-rollover crashes. Some 40% of fatal rollover crashes involve excessive speeding.

Highway deaths do not have to add to the death toll from the pandemic, drivers can make a resolution to make changes in their driving habits for 2021. Just like we can do our best to protect ourselves from COVID-19, we can also take action to protect ourselves and our families from injuries and deaths due to traffic fatalities.

Make a resolution in 2021 to focus on your driving and drive like you would want the person in front of you, behind you, and beside you to drive. Resolve to be a better driver in 2021. While all notions of self-improvement have their value, driving is one area where your actions can affect not only yourself, but other drivers and passengers on the road, too. Motor vehicle crashes continue to take their toll, without one day passing without a death on Texas roadways since November 2000. Let’s end this streak!

Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Community Health Educator Courtney Parrott, Brown County and the Passenger Safety Project suggest some safe driving resolutions for 2021:

Drive the posted speed limit, slow down for construction and emergency vehicles, and always drive slower and more cautiously when weather conditions are bad. Keep the proper distance between your car and the vehicle in front of you, leaving enough room to stop in an emergency. 

Make sure you are prepared to drive. Always arrange for a sober driver or ride home if alcohol is consumed. And make sure to not drive while drowsy. By being well-rested and sober before getting behind the wheel, motorists will be better prepared to arrive at their destination safely.   

Take the few seconds to put on your seatbelt and make sure that all passengers are also buckled up. Take time to be sure that all children are riding in the correct car seat for their age, weight, and developmental stage. Also, get a car seat inspection by a certified child passenger safety technician to make sure the car seats are being used and installed correctly.

Put down the phone when you are driving and do not drive distracted! Cell phones are a major distraction, but not the only distraction to drivers. Adjusting radios and GPS devices, loose pets, eating, and applying makeup while driving are just some of the other distractions when behind the wheel.  Resolve to not use your phone this year while driving.

And last but not least, be a role model for the teen drivers in your family and for their friends. Show them what it means to focus on your driving.

Making a resolution to improve your driving habits in of these driving areas may very well save your life and the lives of others on the road.