Addressing Pandemic Needs

Single Vehicle Crashes Spike During COVID-19

By: Elaine Wang, MD

It is yet another unfortunate impact of COVID-19 – a sharp increase in single vehicle crashes and fatalities on our roads.

In March and April of this year, Connecticut along with many other states issued stay-at-home orders that discouraged non-essential travel. When on the roads, drivers enjoyed a brief respite from the traffic that usually accompanies travel in and out of busy Connecticut cities. However, a collaborative group of researchers led by Connecticut Children’s Injury Prevention Center (IPC) found that despite a decrease in the number of daily vehicle miles traveled, the rate of single vehicle crashes increased more than two-fold and the rate of fatal single vehicle crashes increased more than four-fold during this time.

The lead author, Mitchell Doucette, PhD, MS, who is an affiliated researcher at Eastern Connecticut State University, published an article in the journal Injury Prevention that analyzed traffic patterns before and after the stay-at-home order. Dr. Doucette and co-authors collected and analyzed data from the Connecticut Department of Transportation regarding instances and severity of motor vehicle collisions. They reviewed data from the StreetLight Insight database to create estimates of total daily vehicle miles traveled. They also analyzed data from the National Climate Data Center to control for seasonal weather variability. The researchers compared the 2020 data from the months before and after stay-at-home orders took effect with the same time frame in the years 2019, 2018 and 2017.

The researchers found that COVID-19 had a significant impact on driving patterns in Connecticut. This year, the daily vehicle miles traveled decreased by more than 40% from pre- to post-pandemic. They also found that the overall number of crashes and the average daily number of crashes decreased. However, there were different trends based upon different crash types. Most notably, the rate of single vehicle crashes increased more than two times and the rate of fatal single vehicle crashes increased more than four times in the post-stay-at-home period. 

Read the full study here.

The study also points out that media reports suggest an increase in drivers speeding on roads in Connecticut since the stay-at-home orders took effect. The researchers hypothesized that the “increase in single vehicle crashes is due in part to increased driving speed associated with decreased traffic volume and reduced police presence.” Prior studies support this hypothesis and showed that decreased traffic volume is likely to result in increased speeding and other risky driving behaviors.

As part of my own training as a pediatric resident, I rotate through multiple areas of the hospital including the Emergency Department (ED), the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (ICU), and the various clinics within our hospital. I see pediatric patients from infancy to young adulthood who present for motor vehicle collision related injuries. I have seen them as emergency medical technicians first roll them into the ED, and then later as they spend the first anxious night in the ICU, and then again when they come into the clinic for follow up appointments to happily get completely cleared. As providers, we regularly run simulations to prepare for patients coming in to the ED following a motor vehicle crash. None of my drills, however, prepared me for the patients who don’t make it to the hospital. The IPC works to prevent these crashes from ever occurring in the first place.

Read a news article about the study.

As the rates of COVID-19 increase in our community, we have focused on social distancing and personal protective equipment to offer safety. However, the effects of COVID-19 are multifold and road safety is yet another venue in which we all must remember to stay vigilant and stay careful.

Elaine Wang, MD is a resident physician at Connecticut Children’s and the UConn School of Medicine.

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