It’s no secret that COVID has had a big impact on our daily lives. Whether you’ve started working from home, wearing a mask in public spaces, or are socializing less with friends and family, the pandemic has had a significant impact on nearly every aspect of our lives—including the way we drive.
Some of this news is promising: Early statistics show that 2020 was one of the safest years on the road to date. But there’s more to that statistic than meets the eye.
Here’s what you should know about how COVID and stay-at-home orders have impacted DUI and driving trends, and how you can continue to stay safe on the road in the months ahead.
How 2020 Was The “Safest” Year for Driving
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 2020 was the safest year on record for alcohol-impaired driving incidents since they began reporting data on driving-related fatalities in 1982.
That means that over nearly forty years, last year had the fewest alcohol-impaired driving fatalities. Not to mention that in the first half of 2020, Americans on average traveled 264.2 billion fewer miles than usual.
Of course, if you look at these statistics in the context of the century’s first global pandemic, they aren’t as surprising.
As the country went into its first lockdown in the spring of 2020, many people stopped driving entirely. Others were driving far less frequently. Very few people, mostly essential workers, continued their pre-pandemic driving habits.
With fewer cars on the road, the number of alcohol-impaired driving incidents and traffic fatalities declined.
But that doesn’t mean that the roads were necessarily safer during the stay-at-home orders: statistics show that emptier roads led to more speeding, reckless driving, and an increase in substance abuse.
Why Empty Roads Pave the Way for Speeding
As stay-at-home orders took effect across the country in spring of 2020, highways, freeways, and frequently traveled roads soon became less-traveled. Though this helped to reduce the total vehicle miles traveled (VMT), it also created an opportunity for dangerous drivers looking to speed.
In some states, vehicles reached speeds up to 75% higher than before the pandemic. Several law enforcement agencies have also reported more drivers speeding at over 100mph.
Both major cities and less populated areas have experienced this trend. In Sandy Springs, Georgia, for example, police chased a reckless motorcyclist driving at 172mph. The officer on the scene was reportedly unable to track the motorcyclist down, as they were speeding at a rate too fast for the officer to catch.
In most areas, the initial rise in speeding coincided with the first stay-at-home orders in March through June of 2020.
It appears as though the stress and boredom of the stay-at-home orders, combined with less drivers on the road, created an increase in illegal reckless driving and speeding. With fewer pre-pandemic activities available to keep people engaged, data shows that many drivers took to speeding on the streets when the stay-at-home orders went into place.
Though speeding rates increased among most demographics, there was one group of drivers whose rates of intoxicated driving increased during the pandemic: young men.
More Younger Men Are Driving Intoxicated
According to 2020 statistics from the NHTSA, young men in rural areas drove more recklessly during the pandemic.
With fewer cars on the roads and fewer traffic police stops, seatbelt use went down and more young men went to the hospital or died with alcohol or drugs in their system, according to the NHTSA.
Coincidentally, the NHTSA began measuring drug and alcohol levels of fatally injured drivers and other road user crash victims in the fall of 2019. By analyzing the blood of people who were brought into the emergency room or morgue after a crash, the NHTSA was able to track substance abuse in East Coast drivers before the pandemic hit.
Once the pandemic hit in 2020, the NHTSA was able to compare blood alcohol and substance levels in drivers involved in a fatal crash before and during the pandemic. Here are some of the results found in their report:
- The number of drivers who tested positive for alcohol increased by over 8% during COVID.
- The number of drivers who tested positive for cannabinoids increased by nearly 10% during COVID.
- The number of drivers who tested positive for alcohol and at least one other substance increased by almost 4% during COVID.
- Overall, the number of drivers who tested positive for at least one active drug was 64.7%, an increase from 50.8% from before the pandemic began.
The reports also showed that men were more likely to have positive results in any of these categories than women. Positive rates were also higher in rural areas and on weekends.
How the Pandemic Has Increased Anxiety, Depression, and Intoxicated Driving
No one is immune to the stress, grief, and difficulties the pandemic has caused. Data shows that since the pandemic began, rates of anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation have increased among adults in the US.
It’s been a hard year for all of us. It’s clear that the impact of physical distancing and stay-at-home orders has had a tremendous impact on our mental health. And if you’ve personally experienced any of these feelings, you’re not alone.
To help you cope with stress, care for yourself, or work with alcohol and substance abuse, here are some resources that may help.
Staying Safe When Your County Reopens
As we approach a new, and hopefully brighter, stage of this pandemic, it’s important to keep driving safety a top priority.
Even if roads are emptier than usual, it’s crucial to keep yourself and others safe by complying with state and county laws, staying under the legal speed limit, wearing a seatbelt, and complying with any applicable interlock ignition rules.
As always, we’re here to help. If you have a DUI or IID-related question, don’t hesitate to reach out and contact us at (844) 387-0326.
Let’s all do our part to ensure we stay safe on the road as we work towards defeating this virus.