The state of emergency prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed a new, deadly trend. By the end of March 2020, Maryland residents were on stay-at-home orders in swift response to COVID-19, and traffic volumes were down more than 50% statewide. Yet with significantly fewer cars on the roads, Marylanders continued to lose their lives in crashes at an alarming rate (”What do 42% of drivers do on the JFX? Hint: It’s not safe,” April 27).
In 2020, 568 people lost their lives while driving, riding, walking or biking, a 6.4% increase from 2019 when the state had 535 fatalities. This is the highest number of fatalities since 2008. Unfortunately, that trend was common across the country. Data show while millions of Americans were adjusting to their new normal and trying to limit risk of exposure to a new contagious virus, many were taking to the open roads and engaging in dangerous activity behind the wheel.
In Maryland, police reports cite an increase in reckless behavior — higher speeds (some in excess of 95 miles per hour), impairment, distracted driving and lower seat belt use. While we see these behaviors as contributing factors every year, the recklessness was amplified due to the lower traffic volume. While overall crashes decreased by approximately 20% last year, crashes were much more severe, leading to the increase in fatalities. The laws of physics teach us the higher the collision speed, the higher the likelihood of property damage, injury and death.
With 94% of all crashes caused by human error, each of us has the responsibility to change our behavior and reverse this trend. We all have the choice and responsibility to make sure during these difficult times that families do not have to take on the additional burden of burying a loved one due to a crash.
To achieve our goal of zero deaths on our roads, it will take the same commitment and fortitude that Marylanders have shown over the last year in the face of unprecedented adversity. We must all buckle up, slow down, eliminate distractions and drive sober. I am asking all of us to pledge to be the safe driver and help us safe lives on Maryland roadways.
Chrissy Nizer, Glen Burnie
The writer is administrator of the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration.
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