The roads that crisscross our nation have long been the arteries of our daily lives, facilitating the movement of people and goods. However, recent data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) paints a bleak picture of the state of road safety in the United States. From 2020 to 2021, the country experienced a staggering 16 percent increase in the number of crashes, reaching over six million incidents, translating to approximately 16,500 wrecks each day. The most harrowing statistic, however, is the surge in fatalities, with 42,939 Americans losing their lives in car crashes in 2021 – the highest toll in a decade and a half. Read the full NY Times article here.
Understanding the Surge:
The unprecedented spike in dangerous driving and the resulting surge in deadly incidents have prompted researchers and experts to delve into the root causes behind this alarming trend. While several factors contribute to the increase in crashes, it is evident that we are witnessing a spike in deplorable and hazardous driving behavior emerging from the pandemic.
Pandemic-Related Stress and Anxiety: The COVID-19 pandemic has had profound effects on individuals' mental health. Isolation, uncertainty, and economic strain have led to heightened stress and anxiety levels. It is plausible that these emotional challenges manifest on the roads, contributing to impulsive and reckless driving behaviors.
Reduced Law Enforcement Presence: Many law enforcement agencies faced challenges in maintaining regular patrols and traffic enforcement during the pandemic. With fewer officers on the roads, there may have been a decrease in the perceived risk of getting caught, emboldening drivers to engage in riskier behavior.
Changes in Driving Patterns: Lockdowns and work-from-home arrangements significantly altered traditional commuting patterns. As people returned to the roads post-pandemic, they may not have fully readjusted to the nuances of regular traffic flow, contributing to a surge in accidents.
Distracted Driving Epidemic: The proliferation of smartphones and in-car technology has made distracted driving a widespread issue. The increase in connectivity during the pandemic may have exacerbated this problem, diverting drivers' attention from the road and increasing the likelihood of accidents.
Aggressive Driving and Road Rage: Heightened stress levels, coupled with the frustration of navigating congested roadways, may contribute to an increase in aggressive driving and road rage incidents. Such behaviors significantly elevate the risk of accidents and fatalities.
Addressing the Issue:
In the face of this surge in dangerous driving, the principles of The Smith5Keys® and driver safety training become more relevant than ever. The Smith5Keys® to Space Cushion Driving emphasizes maintaining a safe following distance, staying aware of surroundings, and practicing proper observation. As we navigate the challenges posed by the pandemic fallout, adhering to these principles can create a safety net on the roads.
1. Aim High in Steering®: Encouraging drivers to keep their eyes on the road ahead helps anticipate potential hazards and respond proactively, crucial in preventing accidents in the current spike of dangerous driving.
2. Get the Big Picture®: Promoting situational awareness and understanding the broader traffic environment can be instrumental in navigating disrupted driving patterns and reducing the risk of collisions.
3. Keep Your Eyes Moving®: The principle of continuous observation is vital, especially in a time when distractions are pervasive. Staying focused on the road minimizes the chances of falling victim to the distracted driving epidemic.
4. Leave Yourself an Out®: Emphasizing the importance of maintaining a safe following distance and having an escape plan can mitigate the impact of aggressive driving and road rage incidents.
5. Make Sure They See You®: Increased awareness of one's presence on the road is crucial in a period marked by reduced law enforcement presence. Making sure other drivers are aware of your movements can contribute to overall road safety.
The notable increase in dangerous driving and the resulting rise in deadly incidents is a sobering reminder of the complex interplay between individual behavior, societal stressors, and the challenges posed by the pandemic. Understanding the unique challenges of this period and aligning our driving habits with the time-tested principles of The Smith5Keys® and driver safety training, we can navigate these uncertain times with caution and responsibility, ultimately working towards a safer and more secure road environment for all.