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Are roads more dangerous now than before the pandemic?

Since 2020 there has been a nearly 11% increase in deadly crashes.
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Posted at 1:23 PM, Dec 09, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-10 09:28:06-05

MILWAUKEE — Dangerous driving behavior on the road is on the rise and has been since the pandemic, according to a newly released study from AAA.

"There's really no way around the fact that that's just people making bad choices behind the wheel,” said Nick Jarmusz, director of Public Affairs for AAA.

The organization has found all types of reckless behavior on the roads have been on the rise since the start of the pandemic in 2020.

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A vehicle rolled over and crashed near Veterans Park on Lincoln Memorial Drive on Monday following a police pursuit.

"A lot of what we initially attributed the danger or the increase in fatalities to during 2020 during the stay-at-home orders was the fact that traffic volumes were lower, which meant people were typically driving faster and when crashes occur at a faster rate of speed, they tend to be more deadly,” said Jarmusz.

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Milwaukee Police say two people died in a crash involving high speeds on December 1, 2022.

Researchers had theorized as the roads returned to normal, the speeding and aggressive driving behavior would go back down to 2019 levels or lower. However, the opposite has happened. There has been an increase in dangerous behaviors almost across the board. The report says 23 percent of people say they have gotten behind the wheel when they knew they were legally drunk, 12 percent of people say they knowingly drive 15 mph or more over the speed limit and 10 percent say they have driven through a red light.

Dr. Himanshu Agrawal, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral health at Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin, is not surprised.

"There was the initial hit of the meteor of COVID and now there's a delay, and as the physical horror is receding, we've always been worried about this fallout or this delayed tsunami of psychosocial outcry. I am worried that the increase in road rage is part of a manifestation,” said Agrawal.

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Dr. Himanshu Agrawal, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral health at Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin

On top of that, Dr. Agrawal says some of the bad habits people have picked up during the pandemic to survive have not stopped.

"Even though we're supposed to go back to our norm, this might be that some of the worst of the habits that we've had to pick up to survive have persisted,” said Agrawal.

And these reckless driving behaviors are ultimately leading to more deaths on the road. Since 2020 there has been a nearly 11% increase in deadly crashes. Jarmusz fears it will get worse if drivers don’t change their behaviors.

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Milwaukee Police say high speeds were involved in a crash that left two people dead on December 1, 2022.

"They need to break themselves with that habit, and until they do we're probably going to continue to see this increase in crashes and fatalities out there,” said Jarmusz.

If someone is driving aggressively or recklessly, Agrawal says the best thing you can do is act the opposite and stay calm. So if you wave and smile at the person, maybe let them in the lane if they are trying to pass. That can de-escalate the situation and they are more likely to stop their behavior.

This article was written by Rebecca Klopf for WTMJ.