When the Covid-19 pandemic lock down began in earnest March of 2020, streets took on an eerie emptiness rarely seen in the Dallas area. It would seem to be good thing; in fact, there were fewer accidents and you would expect fewer serious personal injuries. However, an interesting statistic emerged that with less traffic, more fatalities happened.
In the four counties of Dallas, Tarrant, Collin, and Denton, there were 72 more fatalities than during the same period in 2019. These totaled 480 deaths from vehicle accidents. Robert Wunderlich with the Texas A&M Transportation Institute said, “It’s a very interesting phenomenon. We were surprised to see that. What you would like to see is a proportional decrease in serious crashes in conjunctions with the decrease in total crashes.”
Less traffic, more fatalities: Why?
A couple of reasons came to the forefront. Speed was number one. With fewer cars on the road, people felt they could exceed the speed limit. Engineers are now studying ways to reduce risks on less congested highways.
Another behavior adding to the deaths is an increased use of alcohol and drugs. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “drug prevalence was high among seriously and fatally injured roadway users before the public health emergency began and was even higher during, especially for alcohol, cannabinoids (active THC), and opioids.” Before the pandemic, 50% of serious or fatal accidents involved these thought-altering substances. Now these account for 65% of serious or fatal accidents.
Are there other factors?
Perhaps not as directly involved with the problem of less traffic, more fatalities, but definitely a contributor, is the condition of streets and roadways throughout the Dallas/Ft. Worth area.
In 2017, Dallas had the 5th highest rate of fatal traffic accidents among the largest 25 cities in the U.S. In addition, it has a backlog of $2 billion in unfunded street improvement needs. Not surprising that so many streets are in disrepair. Also in 2017, Ft. Worth had the 6th highest fatality rate of the same study.
Not only are accidents caused by bad drivers, but by poorly marked lanes, illegible or non-existent signage, pot holes and a myriad of other factors. These are not only an on-site problem, but can damage cars leading to brakes needing repair and other vehicle damage.
In a Dallas City Council traffic safety plan briefing, it was noted that half of the serious accidents in Dallas are on just 8% of the city’s streets. At that meeting, the council endorsed a program called Vision Zero, run by a non-profit group. Its goal is to improve safety on those streets desperately needing attention with the target of zero fatalities.
How to stay safe?
Obviously, first is to be a good driver yourself – no speeding, no thought-altering drugs while driving.
If you live or work in Dallas, there is an interactive map showing street status, planned work, and bond projects. A look at this may help avoid an accident or car repair.
Last, remember to be a defensive driver. A long-remembered line from drivers’ training, “You can be right, dead right as you speed along, but just as dead as if you’d been wrong.”