Demand inevitably exceeds capacity, we’ve been told. That was never true and it’s especially not true now. Traffic volume is down 40% recently as people have nowhere to go. And rush hour is gone.
UC Davis reported on changes in California traffic. With so many people staying home volume is down 40% and crashes and injuries by about half. Traffic that used to flow 70 at night and 35 in the daytime now goes 70 all day. Would you say “speed has doubled”? I’d say fewer people are stuck in traffic generating air pollution. And California roads are safer despite the press reports of scary 100 mph speeders.
On my side of the country the situation is less clear. Massachusetts DOT put out a misleading press statement recently. The State Police have been told to resume speed traps, partly due to complaints about speeders and partly because three fatal accidents happened on the same day. The Boston Globe reported:
The Massachusetts Department of Transportation reported Monday that
the rate of fatalities on Massachusetts roadways doubled in
April. The MassDOT stated with 50% less traffic recorded on major
highways, 28 individuals died in crashes, compared with the month of
April 2019 when there were 27 deaths on roadways in the state.
Thanks to MassDOT’s own data visualization tool I’m going to call them out on lie of omission. There were 27 fatal crashes (with 28 deaths) reported from April, 2020… but there were 35 fatal crashes in 2018 and 33 in 2017. Last year had the safest April since 2014. Without a pandemic regression to the mean would have allowed MassDOT to talk about an unsafe April.
As usual most of the deaths were not on the “major highways” where traffic was measured and where State Police go to run speed traps. I’m looking at a list of all fatal accidents reported in Massachusetts last month. Dover, April 19. A car went off a two lane road and hit a tree shortly before midnight. Westborough, April 18. Wrong way driver in a head-on crash. A lot of them are like that. It looks like only one quarter were on limited access highways.
I suspect the per-VMT death rate has actually increased on major highways in Massachusetts, but the number of such accidents is too small to draw conclusions from one month of data. The injury rate does not seem to be up on California highways, which also have rush hour traffic jams in normal times. Looking around the country I see some states like Massachusetts and some like California. The conflicting reports call out for analysis by somebody who doesn’t make a living funding speed traps.
Luckily police around here are still afraid to get risk their health just to write a speeding ticket. The 30 or so tickets per day by the recalled revenuers are well short of what they would normally write. Quota used to be eight to ten tickets per four hour overtime shift.
But still, if you drive in Massachusetts it’s time to dust off your radar detector.
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