While the pandemic has made many people more careful evaluators of risk, one everyday activity (driving) has quietly become more dangerous over the past two years. More than 20,000 people died in motor vehicle crashes in the first half of 2021, making it an even deadlier year than 2020, which was already the worst year in a decade for motor vehicle deaths.
Now, several new studies point to a potential culprit: driver behavior as a primary cause. A majority of people surveyed in a Travelers Companies insurance company study say they think more drivers are distracted and aggressive than they were before the pandemic.
Meanwhile, 46% of Americans say they believe angry driving happens more frequently than it did at the start of the pandemic, according to the 2022 Policygenius Road Rage Survey.
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These increases come despite a drop in road travel during the first year of the pandemic. Chris Hayes, assistant vice president of Transportation Risk Control for Travelers, says people developed bad habits while the roads were less crowded. They drove faster and used their phones more often, and they kept doing it when traffic returned to a normal level.
“Those behaviors that we learned in just those few months have not gone away,” Hayes says.
Most people view using technology while driving as “unacceptable,” and three-fourths of people say it’s an increasingly big problem, according to the Travelers Risk Index, which interviewed 1,001 adults ages 18 to 69. But that doesn’t stop 69% from saying they use their phones for calls or apps while they drive.
Less than half of people say they take preventive measures like pulling over if they need to make calls, text, or email, or stick to using their phone during stops. Only 14% of people set their phones on “do not disturb” before they start driving.
How to prevent distracted & aggressive driving
1. Put the phone down
Even if the notifications seem urgent. “There is nothing you can be doing in a car as important as getting to your destination alive,” Hayes says.
2. Slow down
Hayes calls motor vehicle deaths a “second epidemic,” one that can partially be cured by slowing down. “Every single bad behavior gets substantially worse the faster you go,” he says.
3. Call out risky behavior
Passengers also have a role to play. 87% of drivers say they would be at least somewhat less likely to use their phones while driving if a passenger asked them not to. But only 53% say they often or always speak up as a passenger when a driver is engaging in distracted driving.
“Drivers know the things they are doing are risky, and if they’re called out on them, they’re likely to stop,” Hayes says.
Cars are getting safer and safer, and still around 100 people a day die in motor vehicle crashes. While enforcement is important, drivers and passengers also have a role to play in preventing dangerous driving.
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