It wasn’t immediately apparent what all of the effects would be of Gov. Ned Lamont’s declaration of a public health emergency back on March 12. A big change was quickly plain to see, however: the number of vehicles on the streets of North Haven dropped dramatically, as did the traffic in New Haven and other nearby communities.
A team of researchers analyzed motor vehicle crash data from the early stage of the pandemic and found that though Connecticut roads, streets and highways became less crowded, they also became more deadly.
Sharp rise in fatal crashes
That’s according to their report recently published in the medical trade journal The BMJ. They found that even though traffic levels were dramatically lower from late March through the end of April, fatal single-vehicle crashes during the period more than quadrupled.
“We compared motor vehicle crash rates before and after the March 23 stay-at-home order,” said Eastern Connecticut State University Professor Mitchell Doucette, a report author. “We found that single-car crash rates overall and single-car crash rates that involved a fatality increased significantly in the initial period of the stay-at-home order (March 23-April 30), after accounting for large drops in traffic volume.”
Doucette said the single-vehicle wreck rate “increased more than two times” and the fatal single-vehicle crash rate “increased around four times.”
The researchers found that after the governor issued the stay-at-home order, miles traveled on Connecticut roads dropped more than 40 percent.
Researchers point at speed
According to the report, the researchers believe drivers speeding on the opened-up roadways fueled increases in crashes and deadly crashes.
Said Doucette, “We believe that an increase in speeding likely drove these findings, consistent with previous news media reports of increased speeding among motorists and reduced police presence on roadways during the initial stage of the pandemic.”
According to Eric Jackson, executive director of the Connecticut Transportation Institute at the University of Connecticut, 25 more people died in auto crashes by May 1, 2020 than had perished in the same period last year.
Speed is always dangerous
No matter the weather, excess speed makes driving more dangerous, as the chart below from the National Safety Council shows.
Speed is a contributing accident factor in the following conditions:
- 16 percent of crashes on dry roads
- 19 percent on wet roads
- 37 percent on roads with snow or slush
- 41 percent on roads with ice or frost
Looking into the future
Doucette said that if the future holds another lockdown, Connecticut and other states should consider implementing traffic-calming measures or increasing the police presence on our streets.
“These strategies can potentially reduce the number of injuries on our roadways during similar, future events,” he said.