MISSOURI – Despite less people on the roads during COVID-19 pandemic, the number of serious and fatal car crashes remained high.
According to an MU Health Care study, minor or no injury crashes decreased significantly during the lockdown in Missouri.
The study looked at traffic accident reports for the state beginning on Jan. 1 and ending on May 15. March 23 was considered the first day of lockdown. and May 3 was considered the first day of reopening.
MU Health Care Neurologist and Principal Investigator of the study Adnan Qureshi, MD, said the serious and fatal crash data was kind of unexpected.
“If you look at serious or fatal accidents, surprisingly, that did not change at all,” Dr. Qureshi said. “It was essentially the same before the society was in lockdown and during the societal lockdown, and even after the societal lockdown, there was no change.”
A big factor in why the number of minor crashes decreased during the lockdown, while serious and fatal car crashes increased, was speeding.
“There was more space on the road to speed, so the speeding of the existing traffic actually increased, because there was more space,” Dr. Qureshi said. “Obviously when you have a higher speed of traffic on average, the risk of actually having an accident that results in serious or fatal injuries increases.”
Missouri State Highway Patrol Lt. Collin Stosberg also said the patrol has seen more cars speed since the pandemic began.
“We saw an uptick in speeding offenses, 26 miles per hour higher, increased dramatically and that contributed to many, many crashes,” Lt. Stosberg said.
Truck driver Jimmy George experienced this speeding first hand. He has driven through Missouri delivering food for over 40 years.
“It’s been too much, too fast,” George said.
Now that the lockdown has been over for four months, Lt. Stosberg said he has seen an increase in fatal crashes.
“Statewide fatalities in Missouri are up 13 percent compared to this time last year,” Stosberg said.
After the lockdown, Dr. Qureshi also said the study found all road traffic accidents began to increase once more people got back on the roads.
In 2019, there were 881 car crash fatalities in Missouri. As of Sept. 27, there were 717 fatalities so far this year, according to the MSHP.
Lt. Stosberg said Missouri drivers need to remember the effect speeding and reckless driving can have on those around them.
“We want the public to know that the worst thing we could do as troopers is go to these crashes, and again, they’re all preventable, and then go notify a family member that their loved ones are not coming home,” Lt. Stosberg said.
He stressed the importance of always wearing a seatbelt to help prevent serious injuries.
One of the reasons Dr. Qureshi performed the study on car collisions and the COVID-19 shutdown was to determine if hospitals’ ability to take care of COVID-19 patients was compromised by car crash injuries.
“The hospitals are not likely to see an increased burden from road traffic accidents that result in serious or fatal injuries,” Dr. Qureshi said.
As of September, University Hospital has not experienced a burden from traffic crashes. Dr. Qureshi hopes this study and safe driving will make it stay that way.
You can read the full study on the connection between the lockdown and road traffic accidents here.