MassDOT Data Show Less Traffic, but Higher Odds of Dying on Streets

An uninjured driver stands next to the SUV she flipped over while driving on Route 1 in Peabody on March 18, 2020. Photo courtesy of the Massachusetts State Police.
An uninjured driver stands next to the SUV she flipped over while driving on Route 1 in Peabody on March 18, 2020. Photo courtesy of the Massachusetts State Police.

MassDOT data show that while traffic is down by half on major state highways, drivers still killed more people in crashes in April 2020 than in April 2019.

28 people died in crashes in April while Governor Baker’s stay-at-home order was in effect, compared to 27 people killed in the same month last year. That’s in spite of a new state law against using electronic devices while driving, which took effect on April 1.

MassDOT officials believe that higher speeds, enabled by the lack of traffic on the Commonwealth’s streets and highways, may be the biggest culprit in the uptick of roadway violence.

Data from cities that have automated speed limit enforcement cameras, like New York and Chicago, suggest that a higher proportion of drivers are breaking traffic laws during the pandemic.

“Our traffic and safety engineers continuously monitor roadways across the Commonwealth and have identified a dangerous trend that has led to the doubling of the vehicular fatality rate in Massachusetts for the month of April,” said Highway Administrator Jonathan Gulliver in a press release. “During the pandemic, everyone in the Commonwealth has sacrificed and used disciplined actions to keep themselves, their loved ones, and our community safe. We ask that all residents use this same dedication to safety and reduce their speeds when driving.”

“Empty streets are not a license to drive faster,” Stacey Beuttell, Executive Director of WalkBoston, in the same  press release. “Please consider every street a shared street and stay safe.”

The majority of April’s crash victims were either drivers or passengers in motor vehicles, including two motorcyclists.

Drivers also killed on bicyclist (the unidentified victim of the April 22 crash on Massachusetts Ave. in Boston) and three pedestrians last month: an unidentified 31 year-old man, killed in a hit-and-run in Springfield, Jason Lanney, 47, in Leominster, and an unidentified victim in Malden.

April also marked the first month when police began writing tickets under the Commonwealth’s new hands-free law, which became law in February 2020. Police had previously been issuing warnings under the new law, but started issuing fines for violations on April 1.

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