The Zebra Newsroom

Why reckless driving increased during the COVID-19 pandemic

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Nationally, vehicle miles dropped by  264.2 billion miles  but the number of crash-related fatalities remained stagnant. As roads cleared up due to stay-at-home orders, drivers have developed reckless driving habits, ultimately increasing the severity of crash claims being made.

U.S. traffic-related deaths have been steadily increasing after the initial pandemic lockdown ended in March. The estimated cost of motor-vehicle deaths, injuries and property damage by  November 2020 reached $433 billion

As a result of less road congestion and the  significant drop in commute times,  speeding  has been particularly common among drivers. Drivers consider speeding as the safest of four traffic violations even though it’s the most  fatal, with  9 out of 10 people behind the wheel admitting to doing it and 21 million  get caught annually. Extreme speeding has also become popular — the California Highway Patrol wrote  2,500 speeding tickets  to drivers caught going more than 100mph between March and April (and reported 10 fatal collisions within the same time frame), an 87% jump from 2019. Cameras in New York City also captured  296,000 speeders  in just the month of March. 

Other reckless driving behaviors include  driving under the influence, at-fault collisions, running a  red light, texting while driving (distracted driving) and  not wearing a seatbelt. Drivers and passengers both reported less frequent seatbelt usage during the third quarter of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019, and NHTSA reported that drivers pulled over while  under the influence had a higher chance of also not wearing their seatbelt

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As of March,  21.3%  of vehicle fatalities involved alcohol, with the percentage increasing to 26.9% by mid-July.  Binge drinking rates  surged in 2020, with alcohol  serving as a coping mechanism  to dealing with increased stress, anxiety and isolation due to the pandemic. 

Research also showed a 9.9% increase in distracted driving year over year and is reported as the factor of  8.5% of fatal motor vehicle crashes  according to a  2019 NHTSA report. A survey by  LeithCars.com  also found that 22.5% of respondents have been a passenger in a crash caused by a distracted driver. In response, insurance companies have increased the penalty for driving while distracted by almost  10,000% since 2011.  

Whether it be a cross-country road trip or just a reason to get out of the house, more people are finding reasons to get behind the wheel. Being on the road has changed from just a means of transportation to a socially distant remedy to  “lockdown fatigue.” Not only does this mean drivers are more likely to  rage-drive  as a form of stress relief, drivers also might seek an adrenaline rush by driving faster on purpose. Rage driving behavior includes honking, changing lanes without signaling, yelling at another driver, and making angry or obscene gestures.  

As more people return to the roads it’s important to consider how these new driving patterns impact claim rates. CCC reported as much as a  20% drop in claims in volume  in December, but they’ve also  observed higher claim severities  throughout the year. Hopefully, with  more access to telematics combined with the increased urgency in quickening claims  processes, insurance carriers could use real-time driving data to predict and even prevent drivers from being reckless. Insurers expect claim volume to  remain low  in 2021 as work-from-home orders remain in place.

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