Davidson County has seen almost double the number of fatal crashes this year compared with the first four months of 2020, according to the Tennessee Highway Patrol, as traffic begins a return to pre-COVID-19 norms.
As of April’s closing days, the area has seen 47 fatal crashes in 2021, up 95.8% from the first four months of 2020, according to a data dashboard managed by the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security.
Lt. Bill Miller, spokesperson for the THP, said much of the problem isn’t coming from a specific increase in dangerous behaviors, but from a general increase in risky driving that proliferated while roads have been emptier during the pandemic.
As COVID-19 vaccinations have hit the market and reached residents, and businesses reopen their doors to workers, roads are becoming more crowded again, Miller said.
Drivers whom Miller classified as “risk takers” before the pandemic were still risk takers during, he said, and while the roads were emptier, the risks drivers felt they could take went up.
While there weren’t as many traffic fatalities in 2020 while people were adjusting to less congested roads, Miller said, the problem is revealing itself as traffic climbs back toward pre-pandemic levels.
“Those risk takers aren’t adjusting their speeds back down,” Miller said.
January and March of 2021 were the county’s worst months for fatal crashes, with 16 reported in both months. February saw just six, and April had nine.
In early 2020, January was the highest month for fatalities with eight crashes, followed by February with seven, March with six and April with just three as pandemic closures began reducing traffic.
In 2019, which stands as a more baseline year for traffic, there were 25 traffic fatalities by the end of April, with six in January, five each in February and March, and nine in April.
Miller said the THP is partnering with the Metro Nashville Police Department to more strongly enforce distracted driving laws and encourage drivers to be safer.
And as usual, they’re running several partnered enforcement events around the state to quell traffic accidents and fatalities on Tennessee’s major highways, he said.
But alongside law enforcement, everyday drivers can help out as well, he said.
“One of the things that drivers can do is be mindful of your internal clock,” Miller said.
During the pandemic, he said, drivers may be more used to getting to some places in 10 or 15 minutes when previously it might have taken 20 or 25 minutes to account for traffic.
Running behind can cause a driver to start speeding, which in turn increases the chances they have a car accident, and that the accident could be fatal.
Drivers also need to remember to stay off their phones, Miller said. Tennessee is a hands-free state, meaning it’s illegal to hold your device or use it while driving, outside of an emergency that warrants it.
He also said that, generally, drivers need to slow down, especially those who got used to more open roadways in 2020.
“Slow down is one of the main things we need you to do, just slow down,” Miller said.