TROY, NY – Research from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute shows traffic crashes nearly halved during the two-month period at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, when residents of most states were under a stay-at-home order.
Using a detailed dataset from the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, Jason Huh, an assistant professor in Rensselaer’s Department of Economics, found that traffic accidents in Louisiana were down 47 percent. in March and May 2020 when Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards issued a series of orders that closed businesses and schools, limiting mobility across the state. Accidents with injuries decreased by 46% and those for which an ambulance was called decreased by 41%.
The number of fatal accidents, however, has not decreased significantly.
Dr. Huh’s research also showed that crash declines were not equal across all demographics. Traffic crashes involving males, non-white drivers and people between the ages of 25 and 64 all saw a smaller reduction in crashes.
“The number of cars on the roads has changed significantly due to these lockdown orders,” Dr Huh said. “Differential effects on individual behaviors could stem from differences in adherence to lockdown or job characteristics, such as the ability to work remotely.”
Dr Huh was able to calculate the dollar value of the reduction in car crashes by combining publicly available data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration with his findings of a 47% reduction to approximate the fact that the lockdown of the COVID-19 resulted in a decrease in car accident costs of $21 billion nationwide during the period March to May 2020.
“While it might seem obvious that when fewer people drive due to a public health crisis there would be fewer crashes, the precise scale of the impact and who it affects most is important and useful information for the public, researchers and policy makers,” he said.
Dr Huh was joined in the research paper, – “COVID-19 Lockdown and Traffic Accidents: Lessons from the Pandemic” – by Stephen Barnes of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Louis-Philippe Beland of Carleton University ( Ottawa) and Dongwoo Kim at Texas Christian University.