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Impaired Driving

The Pandemic Behind the Pandemic: How COVID-19 Has Impacted Roadway Safety

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When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, everyone in the world heard about the dangers of COVID and how to avoid its effects. However, a second threat grew in America right under our noses that isn’t talked about enough: impaired driving.

With the onset of the pandemic, less people were on the roads. Just in 2020, total vehicle miles traveled decreased by close to 430 billion, or 13.2%, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. With so many people staying home, you’d think roads would be safer. However, recent data shows the opposite.

Despite the decrease in driving, vehicle-related fatalities shot up by 7.2 percent in 2020, which brought them higher than any year since 2007. In 2022, the NHTSA estimates 9,560 people have died in vehicle-related fatalities in the first quarter of the year, which brings the number of vehicle-related fatalities up an additional seven percent since 2021. This first quarter number is the highest any has been since 2002.

Even though we are still not driving nearly as much, more people are dying in car crashes than they have in two decades.

Why are these numbers so disproportionate?

There was something else that increased exponentially during the pandemic: alcohol consumption.

In the last week of March 2020 alone, America’s alcohol sales went up by a staggering 54%. When people are put under stress, they typically turn to coping mechanisms. Unfortunately for America, ours was alcohol.

Along with alcohol sales, alcohol impaired driving has gone up considerably. According to the 2021 TIRF USA Road Safety Monitor, 22.5% of Americans admitted to driving under the influence in the last 12 months. This number is significantly up from 16.6% in 2020. Additionally, in 2021 12.3% said they drove under the influence often, as opposed to eight percent in 2020.

From 2019-2020, police-reported car crashes with fatalities where at least one driver was alcohol-impaired went up by 14.3%. This makes 2020’s total alcohol-impaired accident fatalities 11,654. That’s 11,654 lives lost in one year because of the decision made by individuals to drive while intoxicated.

This number has not been decreasing, either. In NHTSA’s early report on the 2021 stats, the number had already gone up another five percent.

What can you do?

No one plans to be in a car accident, especially one that involves alcohol. However, you can plan to avoid one. Here are some simple suggestions from State Farm that could save your life and the lives of others:

  • Don’t go out in a group without choosing a designated driver who will not drink – Not even one, no matter what.
  • If you go out alone and choose to consume alcohol, use a ride-share service to get home. Uber and Lyft are both easy, safe options.
  • Never let someone who has been drinking drive. No matter how sober they might seem, they pose a threat to everyone on the road and in the car, including themselves.
  • If you suspect an impaired driver, call 9-1-1.

You can’t drink away anxiety

The Center for Disease Control recognizes that alcohol consumption increases during times of stress. The best way to combat this is to find the root of your stress and figure out a safe way to deal with it. Here are some simple suggestions from the CDC:

  • When needed, take a break from news and media. Don’t overwhelm yourself with worries that you don’t need to make space for.
  • Take care of yourself physically. Get more sleep, eat food that will fuel you, exercise when you can; do things that will promote your physical well-being.
  • Connect with loved ones and build community. Call family you haven’t talked to in a long time or go have lunch with old friends. Do things that allow you to connect with others and share your experiences.

Read more about the CDC’s suggestions here.

To keep yourself and others safe, actively make the decision to drive sober and encourage everyone else to do the same.

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