UNITED STATES─During the COVID-19 lockdown, Los Angeles’ Department of Transportation reported that traffic had dropped off by 55% and serious and fatal accidents dropped by almost 50%. This despite speeding being up by 30% over the same time the year before. The drop in drivers on the streets translated to lower accidents and fatalities.

However, this trend didn’t continue long. In early May when some of the restrictions were lessened and shops began opening up, drivers took to the road again. Soon the drop in accidents was erased and, and by mid-May, serious accidents were back up to pre-COVID-19 levels.

Speeding and Fatalities

While there was initially fewer accidents in LA and millions were saved on injuries, the statistical waters are muddied a bit: the LAPD reported that it was seeing an “alarming increase” in fatalities at the beginning of May even while overall accident rates hadn’t returned to normal. LAPD Deputy Chief Blake Chow attributed this to a surge in speeding on the emptier streets, and then when more drivers took to the streets, cars weren’t slowing down accordingly. In fact, CHP wrote nearly 2,500 speeding tickets for drivers going over 100MPH after the stay at home order which led to more high speed auto accidents.

Chow said every driver has a 5,000-pound missile and should take extra care in watching for people on foot, on bike sand with strollers and carts.

The Fix?

Officials looked to their traffic lights and other controls to slow speeders down. They switched the city’s 5,000 traffic lights to permanent night-time settings so that a driver will not get several green lights in a row and will have to wait longer and thus have to slow down.

Also, push buttons on walk signals were disabled partially due to COVID-19 concerns, however, by doing so, it takes the light longer to cycle through and thus slow down drivers.

Across the Nation

Los Angeles isn’t alone in increasing accidents and fatalities after COVID-19 quarantines were lifted. In an article in The Detroit, Bureau, the author reported that as COVID-19 stay at home orders were removed, “total loss” crashes jumped 2% nationwide. These are crashes so severe that the insurance company will consider the car a total loss instead of spending money to fix it.

Speeding is up across the nation as well. The National Safety Council reported that fatality rates jumped in March by 14% across the country even while overall accident numbers were still down. The report attributed the jump to speeding and other behaviors like racing.

Net Loss or Gain?

While it’s too early to tell if there will be a net loss or gain in serious accidents or fatalities, it is apparent that driver behavior and attitudes have a lot to do with the number of traffic accidents and fatalities. Being quarantined and then set free on open roads is too much for some to ask them to slow down now that traffic is getting back to normal.

One scenario is still possible, and that is that in 2020, serious, non-fatal accidents might be down, but fatalities might be up. Time will tell.