Speeding, distracted driving tied to pandemic

The World Health Organization, or WHO, declared COVID-19 a global pandemic on March 11, 2020. By April 15, 2020, driving trips had fallen by 60%. According to a recent report by Cambridge Mobile Telematics of Cambridge, Massachusetts, at the same time driving trips fell, speeding risk jumped by 64% above pre-pandemic averages and phone distraction risk rose by 18.5%. The new report shows that distracted driving — when drivers actively use their phone while driving — is at its highest point of the pandemic.

Just when traffic safety experts are trying to curb the increase in distracted driving, we get the report that the average driver spent one minute and 38 seconds driving distracted for each hour of driving in February 2022. This is 30% higher than February 2020, the last month before the pandemic, says the CMT report.

The United States saw a historic disruption in driving in the wake of the global pandemic. It’s no surprise that driving trips had fallen significantly, but should we have expected the increase in speeding risk or such a rise in phone distraction?

In a report from Erie Insurance, a new survey found that 1 in 10 drivers admitted to speeding during COVID-19 and traveling 20 MPH over the speed limit during the early months of the pandemic. Respondents gave a wide range of rationales as to why they drove much faster than normal during the pandemic. The majority — 66% — said since the roads were not so congested during the pandemic, they felt it was safe to exceed posted speed limits. Almost half of respondents — 46% — said their reason for speeding was simply that they view themselves as a “good driver” and felt confident they could drive safely, even at high speeds. Of the drivers who felt they could drive safely even at high speeds, youthful drivers seemed to be the most self-assured — with 71% of 18-24-year-olds feeling this way, compared with only 19% of 45-54-year-olds.

Other excuses for speeding included the fact that there were fewer law enforcement officers visible, so motorists felt they could get away with speeding without getting a ticket — with 34% noting this as a factor.

Driving behaviors since CMT’s last report have shown that distracted driving doesn’t follow the same patterns as other risky behaviors. As driving patterns have approached pre-pandemic levels, speeding has also fallen, likely because of more traffic on the roads. Phone distraction, on the other hand, has continued to rise. February 2022 was the worst month for phone distraction in the U.S. since the start of 2019.

The increase in phone distraction is curious. Unlike speeding, it doesn’t appear to be related to traffic. When total driving fell in the first half of 2020, speeding spiked along with distracted driving. As traffic returned to normal, speeding somewhat normalized. This pattern has not held for distracted driving.


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