This week, a discussion about more evidence that the severity of highway crashes increased during the pandemic, seat belt use declined, and the number of Black people killed in crashes rose by 23 percent.
First, Peter Savolainen, Michigan State University Foundation professor of civil and environmental engineering and an extensive researcher on road user behavior, joins the conversation to share his perspective on why drivers took more risks.
Savolainen observes that speeds tend to be higher when there are fewer vehicles on the roads, leading to reduced congestion, and that the data also underscores the difference in the population driving during the pandemic.
Later, Jonathan Adkins, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), talks about his group’s advocacy on the topic and what can be done.
The conversation also touches on the flaws with setting speed limits based on the 85th percentile. In fact, a GHSA report in 2019 examining speeding-related fatalities concluded that research has shown raising speed limits to match the 85th percentile speed increases the average operating speed of the roadway, consequently increasing the 85th percentile speed.
Adkins talks about the need for more focus on design that accommodates co-existence for all users, including drivers of vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists. As the GHSA noted, pedestrian deaths soared during the pandemic despite the decline in vehicles on the roads.
He also discusses the research showing the increase in minorities dying in car crashes and how that needs to be part of broader equity discussions.
Photo courtesy of the Michigan State Police Seventh District’s Twitter page @MSPNorthernMI. It shows the aftermath of a vehicle from a crash on US-131 in Wexford County in May 2021.