Despite the pandemic, school closures, and more people working from home, traffic fatalities increased in 2020 compared to 2019. At the height of pandemic closures, traffic on Georgia roadways decreased by approximately 40-50%.
The problem is nationwide as all fifty states and the District of Columbia saw traffic-related deaths increase in 2020. For the past seven years, traffic deaths have been on a steady decline in Georgia. So, what caused that trend to reverse in 2020?
During the height of the shutdown, when Atlanta’s roads were far less congested, local law enforcement saw a dramatic increase in triple-digit speeds on speeding tickets. While fender-benders decreased dramatically, catastrophic wrecks increased.
From April to July of 2020, speeds in and around Atlanta increased by 31%. Even once the shutdown was over, and traffic patterns began to return to normal from August to October, speeds remained 21% higher.
On Easter weekend, Sandy Springs police clocked a motorcycle exceeding 173 mph on GA 400. The trend has continued throughout 2020 on backroads and major interstates throughout Georgia. Another driver was clocked doing 116 mph on a side street, passing a fire station, public park, and an apartment complex filled with children who were out of school at the time.
Increased Drug and Alcohol Use
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on the psychological health of Americans. Stay-at-home orders, closed schools, financial and health concerns, and social isolation have contributed to the increase in substance use and abuse.
The increased use of drugs and alcohol inevitably make it onto Georgia’s roadways, contributing to car accidents, often with catastrophic or fatal results. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, one-third of all traffic fatalities involve drugs or alcohol.
The Atlanta metro area has experienced a proliferation of drag racers and other types of racing and stunts on city streets since the beginning of 2020. Such behavior puts bystanders, other motorists, and the participants in danger.
Street racing is a growing and dangerous trend across the United States. The city council of Atlanta is considering exploring a designated spot for drag racing in an attempt to keep the streets of Atlanta safer. In May, the mayor’s office stated that they are in the early stages of exploring such a solution. The concept revolves around the idea that creating a safe place for those who wish to street or drag race would reduce the desire to partake in city streets’ activity. However, opposition to the proposal state that the thrill is in the illegal and dangerous behavior and that providing a designated space to participate will do little to curb the activity on public roadways.
Such driving is dangerous, and the recklessness can program drivers to drive dangerously in busier conditions. As police have been busier with an increase in criminal behavior, as well as protests, there have been fewer officers available to monitor and shut down drag racing and other types of risky behavior.
Reduced Fear of Arrest
COVID-19 has made it more challenging for police officers to arrests and process those engaging in dangerous driving behaviors. With courtrooms shuttered for months, jails at capacity, and struggling with managing the pandemic among the incarcerated population, many drivers engaging in dangerous and reckless behavior are let go with a ticket instead of an arrest.
In the first quarter of 2020, departments across Georgia instructed officers to issue nonviolent offenders written citations when possible as part of an effort to reduce the inmate population at local jails. The knowledge or belief that they are safe from arrest resulted in many drivers engaging in risky driving behavior once curtailed by the threat of going to jail.
Reckless Driving that Results in Fatalities
Georgia Code O.C.G.A. 40-6-39 defines reckless driving as a person operating a vehicle in a manner that disregards the safety or property of other people. If found guilty of reckless driving, a driver could face fines up to $1,000 and up to twelve months in jail.
If reckless driving results in injuries or fatalities, the driver could face far more significant criminal and civil charges. The definition of reckless driving is broad and can include:
- Excessive speed—According to the NHTSA, speeding is a contributing factor in over one-fourth of all car accident Excessive speed is not just driving in excess of posted speed limits. Georgia law also requires that drivers adjust speed accordingly for weather, roadway, and traffic conditions. You can be guilty of reckless driving while going the posted speed limit if roads are icy, or doing so requires you to weave in and out of heavy traffic.
- Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol—Drugs, alcohol, or prescription medication can impair judgment, slow reaction times, and be classified as reckless driving. Georgia Code 40-6-391 states that drivers over the age of 21 are considered under the influence with a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 or more. Those under the age of 21 or operating a commercial vehicle are considered under the influence with a blood-alcohol level of 0.02 or more.
- Aggressive driving—tailgating, weaving in and out of traffic, cutting off another driver, and intentionally blocking another driver are dangerous examples of aggressive driving. Aggressive driving is far too common on the busy roads in and around the Atlanta metro area. Georgia Code 40-6-397 defines aggressive driving as operating a motor vehicle with the intention of annoying, harassing, intimidating, or obstructing another driver.
- Failure to obey traffic laws—Running red lights and stop signs, failing to follow the rules of the road, failing to obey traffic signs, or driving in restricted areas are all common ways drivers fail to obey traffic laws.
A Reckless Driving Conviction in a Personal Injury Case
A reckless driving conviction against the other party will certainly help you prove the other party is at fault if there is an injury or fatality in a motor vehicle accident. A reckless driving citation clarifies that a law enforcement officer deemed the other driver’s actions as reckless and dangerous.
A reckless driving conviction may also lay the groundwork for punitive damages above and beyond the actual damages from a motor vehicle accident. Punitive damages are considered a punishment against the offending party and are intended to be used as a deterrent. Georgia law sets the bar high for punitive damages, requiring that a defendant’s actions show:
- Willful misconduct
- Oppression, or
- A want of care which would raise the presumption of conscious indifference to the consequences of their actions
Contact a Reputable Georgia Personal Injury Attorney
If someone you love was in a fatal motor vehicle accident, it is essential that you contact a skilled personal injury attorney in Georgia. Tobin Injury Law will fight to get you the compensation you deserve. We offer free consultations by calling 404-JUSTICE (404-587-8423) or contacting us through our online contact form.