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Deadly And Serious Auto Crashes In Franklin County More Than Doubled In Early Days Of Pandemic

Highway traffic on I-270 in Columbus.
Mary Rathke
Highway traffic on I-270 in Columbus.

A recent study by Ohio State researchers found that in the first months of the pandemic in 2020, serious and fatal auto crashes more than doubled in Franklin County.

“During the pandemic when traffic disappeared people just started driving quicker and this led to the severe consequences we’re seeing,” said OSU Professor and Director of the Center for Urban and Regional Analysis Harvey Miller.

Serious and deadly crashes increased from 1.5% in 2019 to 3.3% of collisions during the period between February 1 to May 8, 2020, Miller said. That was right before the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders issued by Ohio Gove. Mike DeWine started.

The study found that traffic volumes declined by more than 60% and that changed driving styles and the types of crashes. Rear-end collisions accounted for only 19% of crashes during the lockdown, compared to 35.5% a year earlier. Single-vehicle crashes nearly doubled from 12.9% to 25.3%.

Wide-open roads enticed drivers to speed and behave more recklessly, Miller said.

“This shows us that traffic is the main thing that’s keeping people from driving recklessly and driving at high speeds,” he said.

Miller thinks that engineers and transportation officials have to redesign roads.

“Currently our road designs are not working, and we have to think about engineering to get people to drive more mindfully and also at slower speeds,” he said. “We have to fundamentally rethink how we do road design and also traffic laws in our state in order to keep people safer on the road.”

There are several ways to make roads safer, Miller said.

“This may mean doing things like reducing lane widths for example, and also decreasing speed limits on our roads and highways,” he said.

Debbie Holmes has worked at WOSU News since 2009. She has hosted All Things Considered, since May 2021. Prior to that she was the host of Morning Edition and a reporter.