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Distracted Driving, Fatalities Increase During Pandemic

An increase in distracted driving during the coronavirus pandemic may have contributed to more hazardous roads, according to the 2021 Travelers Risk Index on distracted driving.
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distracted driving, fatalities increase during pandemic

The number of people driving while distracted increased during the pandemic, an increase which may have contributed to more hazardous roads, according to the 2021 Travelers Risk Index on distracted driving, a national survey of more than 1,000 consumers and business managers.

The findings reveal that, while 1 in 4 drivers thinks that roads are safer today than they were before the pandemic, respondents reported using their mobile devices while driving in unsafe ways, including:

  • Texting or emailing: 26%, up from 19% pre-pandemic.
  • Checking social media: 20%, up from 13% pre-pandemic.
  • Taking videos and pictures: 19%, up from 10% pre-pandemic.
  • Shopping online: 17%, up from 8% pre-pandemic.

Such driving behaviors may have contributed to the 8% increase in motor vehicle deaths in 2020, up from 2019—the highest percentage increase in 13 years, according to the National Safety Council.

“Traffic volumes were lower during the early days of the pandemic, which may have given drivers a false sense of security," said Chris Hayes, second vice president of Workers Compensation and Transportation, Risk Control, at Travelers. “Not only did distracted driving increase, data from our telematics product IntelliDrive shows that speeding also became more prevalent. As travel restrictions are lifted around the country, it's critical to slow down and stay focused on the road by eliminating distractions."

Reasons for increased usage of mobile devices while driving may be related to the fact that 1 in 4 respondents said they felt pressure to be available to answer work-related calls and texts for the following reasons:

  • 46% said they think it might be an emergency.
  • 29% said their supervisor would be upset if they don't answer.
  • 22% said they are unable to mentally shut off from work.

And 48% of business managers saying they expect employees to respond frequently to work-related calls, texts or emails, compared to 43% pre-pandemic.

Yet, compared to the 2020 Travelers Risk Index results, more than one-quarter of employers are concerned about liability from distracted driving should an employee be involved in a crash because of distracted driving, up from one-fifth pre-pandemic.

Olivia Overman is IA content editor.