Why traffic accidents are on the rise during the pandemic

Dr. Sal Equita

COVID has had many unexpected effects on us. Perhaps the most unexpected change is the increase in traffic accidents.


In 2020, insurance companies Reported That almost 13% fewer miles were driven than in 2019, yet traffic deaths increased by 7%. Then, the first half of 2021 saw an increase of about 20% compared to the same period a year ago. It seems contradictory.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released Some paper describing its findings on Crash last year. It was found that people in accidents were more likely to have alcohol or other drugs in their systems than in previous years.


After March 2020, the presence of marijuana among seriously or fatally injured drivers increased by 50% and the incidence of opioids nearly doubled. Studies conducted in late 2020 found that more than half of seriously injured drivers had at least one drug present in their systems. Since the start of the pandemic, sales of alcohol and marijuana have been steadily increasing.

Drug and alcohol abuse is not the only contributor to the increase in traffic deaths. There was also an increase in the number of ticket issuers for speeds in excess of 20 mph over the prescribed speed limit. As such, speeding deaths increased by about 11%.


Some people have taken advantage of the empty roads. During 2020, a man ran the famous “Cannonball Run” from Los Angeles to New York at a record average speed of 108 mph.

Speeding is a risky behavior that is made more dangerous by not wearing a seatbelt. The NHTSA database also records how many accident occupants are being ejected from the vehicle (not an exact measure of seatbelt use, but close enough). Not surprisingly, men between the ages of 18 and 49 accounted for the majority of ejections.

The researchers found that in one in seven accidents, cellphones were manipulated within five seconds before the accident. In a separate study, drivers reported an increase in distracted driving since COVID began. COVID is not to be blamed, maybe everyone has their phones with them more than ever before.


Psychologists have tried to explain the behavioral changes observed during COVID. Research psychologist Frank Farley attributed this to “stimulus breakouts,” an opportunity to feel something exciting to escape the feeling of lock down. Others say that destructive behavior is a byproduct of the stress, anxiety and depression that have skyrocketed since the start of COVID-19.

In addition to the stress surrounding COVID, this time of year historically has had a higher incidence of traffic deaths. When kids are out of school, they have more accidents (another reason to go to graduate school). Seventy percent of youth accidents involve alcohol and/or speeding.