Fewer folks on the roads, but deadlier accidents

With nowhere to go and no one to see, Californians left their cars in park for the last year. Traffic collapsed like a mudslide-prone section of Highway 1 after the first cases of COVID-19 were reported in the state last March. By last April the number of cars on the road last was about 40% fewer than the previous April — and the lowest since at least 2013. As many Californians continue to stay home, the traffic has stayed depressed. Just like us.

That there were fewer cars on the road doesn’t mean it was safer for California drivers. When crashes did happen, they were more likely to be fatal or result in a severe injury. More space on the road means drivers were able to go faster, and crashes happened at higher speeds.

“It reminds us that the most important aspect of traffic safety is kinetic energy”, said Offer Grembek, co-director of the Transportation Injury Mapping System at UC Berkeley.