Why less traffic on roads doesn’t mean fewer accidents

The pandemic may have forced people to stay at home, but according to new data released by the New Jersey State Police, no traffic does not mean no accidents.

According to the State Police’s Fatal Accident Statistics, at the height of the pandemic in April fatalities were down compared to in 2019. But in May and June with fewer cars on the road, the fatality rate increased to pre-pandemic numbers.

“I think those two things, cellphone use and speed, certainly two huge contributing factors to our fatalities,” said State Police Superintendent Col. Patrick Callahan.

“Nothing but speeding and cutting me off. People are driving like the ultimate idiots. There’s a few of them I would like to get my hands on today. One almost wrecked our Jeep and took it out. This is insane. On the Parkway alone, we’ve seen almost eight wrecks this morning and we just got on awhile ago,” said Lodi resident Al Bennett.

Rob Sinclair of AAA Northeast says emptier roads may actually be more dangerous during the pandemic.

“With fewer vehicles on the road, the ones that were on the road were driving like maniacs. We saw a lot of speeding. That speed is a factor in roughly 34% of all fatal crashes,” Sinclair said.

He says that technology is part of the problem.

“I worry that all this equipment that they’re putting on vehicles, the safety suite of technology — automatic emergency braking, blind spot warning, lane keeping assist — all these technologies, I think, are lulling drivers into a false sense of security,” he said. “They think that their vehicle is so safe they can drive any way they want and the vehicle will protect them. Unfortunately, that’s just not true.”

Some drivers say they find social distancing is making it difficult for police to stop people for speeding.

“Cops right now are afraid to pull anyone over, and I don’t blame them. People are taking full advantage,” said Bennett.

“I see less cars getting pulled over, that’s about it. I mean cops aren’t bothering nobody,” said East Orange resident Pooch. “Everybody is chilling. Everybody is cool, calm and collected. They know the cops aren’t going to bother them so why speed, you know.”

“The one thing that might work to our advantage is that a lot more people are driving because they’re afraid of being exposed to the virus on public transportation. More vehicles on the road is going to mean more congestion; you’re not going to be able to drive as fast. Speed does kill, and the life you save could be your own or somebody else’s. It’s important that we remain safe,” Sinclair said.