Less people on the road means less fatal crashes, CHP says

Lindsay Cummings

One of the unintended consequences of the shelter-in-place order that went into effect last month due to COVID-19 was a reduction of traffic collisions and fatal accidents on the major highways of California. Still, distracted driving is a threat to drivers, and throughout the month of April the California Office of Traffic Safety and the California Highway Patrol will join other traffic safety partners to remind drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.

According to the National Highway Traffic Administration, distracted driving claimed 3,166 lives in 2017 across the country, with 66 people killed due to distracted driving in California alone.

“The bottom line is whatever the distraction is, it isn’t worth it,” said CHP Sgt. Scott Yox, who is stationed in Yreka.

Distracted driving is any activity that diverts attention from driving, including talking or texting, explained Yox, with texting being the most alarming distraction. Sending or reading a text can take your eyes off the road for five seconds. At 55 mph, this is equivalent to driving an entire football field with your eyes closed. Eating and drinking in the car are other big distractions.

“I get it; you’re hungry and have places to go, but you need to separate those activities,” said Yox. “It blows your mind. I have seen drivers eating with KFC Famous bowl in their lap and driving with their knees. It is important to get a perspective on how fragile human life is.”

With the arrival of COVID-19, it appears fewer drivers are on the road to be distracted. Using data derived from California Highway Patrol incident reports, university researchers at UC Davis estimate that since the governor’s shelter-in-place order went into effect on March 19, vehicle collisions are down 50 percent, falling from roughly 1,000 collisions and 400 injury/fatal roadway crashes per day to 500 and 200 per day, respectively. The study also found that traffic volumes dropped in some cases by 60 percent on certain highways since the order went into effect.

Despite the coronavirus pandemic and the reduction in road traffic, the CHP is still on the road and enforcing the law, Yox said. PPE, such as gloves and masks, are available for officers; and isolated areas of the station are set aside for incoming transports that show signs of the virus.

“Law enforcement is not taking a step back,” said Yox. He encouraged drivers to remain vigilant on the road. “A small move on your part could forever alter the life of another.”