Legal TrendsJanuary 27, 2021

Riskier Driving and the Impact for Personal Injury Practices

Open road

Changes in traffic as a result of the pandemic continue to be an important trend for personal injury firms to monitor.

Studies from INRIX and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show alarming trends: the fewer drivers that were on the road in 2020 engaged in riskier behavior, leading to an increase in fatalities despite a substantial decline in traffic volume.

Watching these changes in traffic patterns and driving behavior is especially important in 2021 under a new administration and potentially new rules of the road.

2020 data shows dangerous roadway trends

A recent INRIX report looked at the Covid-19 pandemic’s impact on US roadways and found that during the first four months of restrictions last year, both traffic and collisions decreased in all major metropolitan areas, but collision rates starting in August resembled 2019 figures even with a continued decrease in traffic.

Accidents were down a whopping 42% from April to July as the median vehicle miles traveled also decreased 35%. From August to October of 2020, however, collisions were down only 9% though traffic was down 21%.

Despite the lower accident rate, the severity of accidents increased in both periods, due to a higher median speed, which was up 33% from April to July, and up 22% from August to October according to INRIX.

NHTSA reports show similar trends, with a 2020 report showing a decrease in traffic volume at the start of the pandemic but an increase in the fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. This trend continued throughout the year. In a statement released in early 2021, NHTSA showed that there was a 13.1% increase in fatalities in the third quarter of 2020 compared to Q3 2019.

Reckless driver behavior to blame Both INRIX and NHTSA reported speeding as a risky behavior that increased last year. But NHTSA noted even more dangerous behavior at play in its companion reports.

According to the NHTSA reports, “drivers who remained on the roads engaged in more risky behavior, including speeding, failing to wear seatbelts, and driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol.” Ejection rates doubled in April 2020 compared to the previous April and the presence of opioids in drivers nearly doubled after March compared to the previous six months.

Specifically, NHTSA said that drivers showed “significantly higher overall drug prevalence during the public health emergency with 64.7 percent testing positive for at least one active drug compared to 50.8 percent before the public health emergency began.”

Changes ahead

In response to the NTHSA report, the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) plans to launch a Speed Management Pilot Program in 2021. The program is expected to take measures such as narrowing roads to slow traffic and using automated traffic enforcement.

2021 also brings a new administration, including new Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg. Buttigieg’s $1 trillion infrastructure plan notes that today states can “legally set annual targets that allow an increase in roadway deaths and serious injuries each year” but that under the new administration, states would be required to “actively improve their safety records or road design processes or else lose federal funding for other roadway projects.”

Buttigieg’s plan also calls for a National Vision Zero program. Vision Zero is a project that aims for zero traffic-related fatalities and serious injuries. Today, a couple of dozen major US cities have either adopted Vision Zero (some as early as 2012) or have it in the works. Nevertheless, The Wall Street Journal reported that New York City had the highest number of traffic deaths in 2020 despite launching the initiative in 2014.

With Covid-19 relief funds that also cover transportation, some initiatives may happen sooner than we’d typically expect, but things can change rapidly as the pandemic continues.

What this means for your firm

As a result of these troubling trends, your firm may be noticing more severe cases caused by driver negligence. In critical cases like these, it’s imperative that you stay organized so you can get the best outcome for your clients. While these types of cases are already challenging enough to manage, a good case management solution can help you receive the most value for those clients or the family members whose lives were forever impacted. If you would like to discuss how our team can help, contact us.


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