Two years into the pandemic, pedestrian fatalities are soaring to record levels amid a nationwide flare-up in reckless driving. Authorities in one state after another are citing factors from the rise in anxiety levels and pandemic drinking to the fraying of social norms, reports the New York Times. New Jersey had its highest number of pedestrian fatalities in more than 30 years. Last year was the deadliest on Utah’s roads since the start of the century, as pedestrian deaths rose 22 percent. Washington State ended 2021 with a 15-year high in traffic fatalities. Texas pedestrian deaths limbed last year to a record high.
Going into the pandemic, some specialists were optimistic that pedestrian deaths would decline. Millions of motorists were slashing their driving time and hewing to social distancing measures. The opposite happened. Empty roads allowed some to drive much faster than before. Some police chiefs eased enforcement, wary of face-to-face contact. Drivers seemed to get angrier. Dr. David Spiegel, director of Stanford Medical School’s Center on Stress and Health, said many drivers were grappling with what he calls “salience saturation.” He said, "We’re so saturated with fears about the virus and what it’s going to do. People feel that they get a pass on other threats.” Dr. Spiegel said another factor was “social disengagement,” with people are not paying as much attention to driving safely. “If they do, they don’t care about it that much,” Dr. Spiegel said. “There’s the feeling that the rules are suspended and all bets are off.” Crashes killed more than 6,700 pedestrians in 2020, up about five percent from the estimated 6,412 the year before, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. Based on another the number of vehicle miles traveled, the group projected that the pedestrian fatality rate spiked about 21 percent in 2020 as deaths climbed sharply even though people drove much less that year, the largest ever year-over-year increase. Preliminary 2021 data indicates yet another increase.