Driving safely is another way to take care of each other

April 23, 2020

Drive Smart! graphic with Minnesota Department of Public Safety logo

Minnesotans learned some things over the last few weeks, haven’t we? And most of them have to do with keeping ourselves, our friends and our neighbors safe: washing our hands frequently, staying home if we’re not essential workers, wearing masks and gloves when we have to leave the house.

As a result of these life-saving measures, Minnesotans have been driving a lot less since the governor’s stay at home order. For instance, in the Twin Cities area on Tuesday, April 21, traffic volumes were down 36 percent compared to averages a year ago. They were down 31 percent statewide.

Impaired driving is also declining. There were 133 DWIs this past weekend, compared to the average of 265 before the pandemic. But with bars and restaurants closed and the stay at home order in place, where is there to go after a few drinks?

There have been fewer crashes overall, too: from March 17 – March 26, the Minnesota State Patrol reported 389 crashes this year compared with 762 during the same time last year. Some people, however, are seeing the nearly empty Minnesota roads as their personal speedway. Law enforcement is seeing significant speeding violations, some in excess of 100 mph.

This has helped contribute to the most troubling statistic of all: a higher number of traffic deaths compared with past years when traffic volumes were normal. From March 16 – April 21, figures show:

  • 2020: 31 fatal crashes (35 deaths)
  • 2019: 22 fatal crashes (24 deaths)
  • 2018: 27 fatal crashes (30 deaths)
  • 2017: 24 fatal crashes (25 deaths)
  • 2016: 30 fatal crashes (31 deaths)
  • 2015: 33 fatal crashes (34 deaths)

The recent fatality rate appears to be slowing down, and we can keep it that way by making smart choices on the road. How awful would it be to lose a loved one to a traffic death when you were already so worried about losing them to COVID-19?

Of course, not everyone who engages in irresponsible driving behavior dies. Speeding, drunk driving, distracted driving, and not wearing a seat belt can result in a crash that leads to serious injuries that would require the time and attention of health care workers and a hospital bed. But those are resources we should be saving for COVID-19 patients. In short, doing anything but driving safely – especially during a pandemic – is thoughtless, selfish, and irresponsible.

So slow down and obey the speed limit. Use a hands-free device for your phone, or put it away altogether, along with other distractions like eating messy foods and fiddling with the stereo. Buckle your seat belt – even if you’re a good driver, that doesn’t mean everyone on the road with you is. And if you drink, plan for a safe ride first, even if it’s just a trip to the nearby grocery store.

Drivers should always drive smart, no matter what the circumstances. But in these times, we should be especially careful to avoid taking a hospital bed and vital medical resources away from a COVID-19 patient. Think of it as another way to take care of each other.