WASHINGTON, DC, March 1 – The side effects of Covid 19 are numerous. They include fatigue, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, the loss of smell or taste. Some say that reckless driving should also be on the list. The statistics are scary at best. The death rate on America’s roads and highways has been steadily sky-rocketing to record-breaking levels over the past two years since the breakout of the pandemic.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration [NHTSA] says there were 36,096 fatalities in motor vehicle traffic accidents in 2019, down two percent from the year before. In 2020, when we drove less due to the lock-downs and self-isolation protocols that were put in place, reckless driving accounted for 38,680 traffic deaths, a 7.2% increase. And, in just the first six months of 2021, traffic fatalities rose 18.4%, leaving us to expect yet another record-breaking 12-month tally.
NHTSA research shows that soon “After the declaration of the public health emergency in March 2020, driving patterns and behaviors in the United States changed significantly. Of the drivers who remained on the roads, some engaged in riskier behavior, including speeding, failure to wear seat belts, and driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. Traffic data cited in those reports showed average speeds increased during the last three quarters of 2020, and extreme speeds, those 20 miles per hour (or more) higher than the posted speed limit, became more common.”
In its report on the phenomenon, the New York Times cites Art Markman Ph.D., a cognitive scientist at the University of Texas, who says, “We’re all a bit at the end of our rope on things. When you get angry in the car, it generates energy — and how do you dissipate that energy? Well, one way is to put your foot down a little bit more on the accelerator.” And Mark Hallenbeck, director of the Washington State Transportation Center at the University of Washington, told the Times, “There’s a portion of the population that is incredibly frustrated, enraged, and some of that behavior shows up in their driving. We, in our vehicles, are given anonymity in this giant metal box around us, and we act out in ways that we wouldn’t face to face.”
To be sure, the attitudes of too many drivers have been distorted by the pandemic, causing them to do things they wouldn’t otherwise do. They might drink and drive or use drugs and drive. They might disregard safety rules such as honoring speed limits, the wearing of seat belts, and stopping at stop signs and red lights.
NHTSA study cited a self-reported survey showing that 7.6% of the respondents admitted that they were more likely to drive too fast during the pandemic. Seven-point-six percent also revealed that they were more likely to drive while impaired. And 6.8% of those who participated in the survey acknowledged they were more likely to have driven while distracted.
Risky driving is the fatal outcome of a seemingly never-ending nightmare that is Covid. It is frustrating to the extreme, killing too many of those who are infected and destroying the lives of those they left behind. It’s a hellish way to live in a world that is in a perpetual state of crisis. Professor of psychological science at the University of California, Roxane Cohen Silver, told the Washington Post: “Even if I personally have not lost a loved one to Covid, I can be seeing pictures and reading stories about the sheer tragedies. So it’s both direct exposure and indirect exposure to the media of all of these cascading traumas that have made it so difficult to cope with it.”