In early July, a 21-year old Plymouth man suffered fatal injuries in a multi-car crash on the Massachusetts Turnpike in Westfield. The accident occurred around 3:00 p.m. when three vehicles initially collided in the westbound lanes at the 39.6-mile marker, not far from the Exit 3 turnoff. None of the occupants at this point were seriously injured until a 2003 Peterbilt heavy tow truck approaching the crash scene rear-ended one of the stopped vehicles, a 2005 Nissan Altima driven by the unfortunate 21-year old Plymouth man, who was pronounced dead at the scene.
Although a number of auto insurers have voluntarily reduced their rates for the past two months, Massachusetts State Attorney General Maura Healey recently sent an open letter to letter to Insurance Commissioner Gary Anderson imploring him to ask all auto and business insurers to a drop their premiums. The number of accidents since the state implemented its lockdown have substantially decreased with Massachusetts experiencing a 50% to 55% drop in traffic levels. Accidents in many states are down by 50% or more. With fewer cars on the road, the risk for accidents has drastically fallen.
Recently, a 65-year old Athol man suffered fatal injuries following a motorcycle crash on Northfield Road in Warwick, Massachusetts. His wife, a passenger, was seriously injured but was recovering at UMass Memorial. Authorities stated it was a single vehicle accident but were unable to confirm the cause of the accident. Apparently, they have not ruled out the possibility that another vehicle was involved that left the scene of the accident or that some road or mechanical defect contributed to the accident.
If there is anything positive to be said about the pandemic, it might be that at least one study is touting the substantial decrease in traffic crashes and fatalities in Massachusetts and other states since mid-March of this year. AutoinsuranceEZ, a company that studies and publishes information for consumers on insurance companies, released a study showing that numerous cities and states have reported dramatic reductions in overall crashes and fatalities. According to the authors, Seattle has experienced a 100% drop in fatal accidents, Massachusetts a 75% decrease, and Los Angeles a decline of 51%.
A recent fatal car accident on Topsfield Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts highlighted the dangers of texting and driving when a 43-year old woman who was using her smartphone struck and killed a 58-year old bicyclist and injured the cyclist’s wife and 19-year old son who were riding with him. The woman was cited for vehicular homicide by negligent operation; a marked lane violation; and for composing, sending, and reading an electronic message. Massachusetts had passed a law banning all use of hand-held devices last year that became effective on February 23, 2020, though officers were only issuing warnings through April 1.
The pandemic and state-wide lockdown has resulted in a 50% decrease in traffic throughout Massachusetts. With fewer cars on the freeways and other roadways, our skies are clearing up and pollution levels are dropping. Unfortunately, traffic fatalities are not decreasing as drivers see an opportunity to race down previously congested roads with the expectation that law enforcement has eased up on patrols.
Just when motorists felt that red light cameras were a thing of the past, the state senate is considering a bill that would bring them back. A major complaint among motorists about red light cameras was that they unfairly penalized a driver who had entered the intersection on a yellow light but just before the light turned red, activating the camera, and resulting in a sizeable fine and points on the violator’s driving record. Traffic safety officials have pointed out that the cameras have caused motorists to suddenly slow down rather than risk a violation leading to numerous rear-end collisions. Various commentators have written that their implementation is just another example of overreaching government intrusion into the privacy of citizens.
Many people despise daylight savings time when clocks are set ahead one-hour and we lose a precious hour of sleep. The early onset of darkness in the late afternoon is lamented as well. Psychologists and other mental health specialists have long argued that the practice is outdated and results in increased rates of depression, bi-polar disorder, and seasonal affective disorder. Now, the conclusions of a traffic study published in Current Biology delivers even more bad news on the effects of the ‘spring ahead,’ and ‘fall back’ routine.
A recently released study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine indicated that 15% of alcohol-related driving deaths involve drivers who tested below the legal driving limit of 0.08% BAC (blood alcohol content). Drivers with a BAC of 0.08% and above are legally presumed to be under the influence and can have their driver’s licenses suspended as well as face criminal penalties. The study also found that 55% of fatalities in accidents where drivers tested below the legal limit were passengers, suggesting that we have underestimated the effects of even lower levels of blood alcohol on driving behavior.
While our roads and highways have experienced a dramatic decrease in traffic since our state began the lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, and commuting to work receded into a distant memory, we are nevertheless seeing a dramatic increase in pedestrian accidents and deaths. This would seem counter-intuitive since fewer cars and people on the streets would naturally appear to result in substantially fewer encounters between people and cars. But data from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation showed that we had 28 pedestrian fatalities in April, one more than in April 2019. This is despite up to a 50% reduction in traffic on major highways.