Traffic Accidents Significantly Dropped During COVID-19 Lockdown

March 7, 2022

Traffic Accidents Significantly Dropped During COVID-19 Lockdown

Data shows billions of dollars of cost savings; suggests implications for remote work policies

Research from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute shows that traffic accidents decreased by nearly half during the two-month period at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic when residents of most states were under a stay-at-home order.

Using a detailed data set from the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, Jason Huh, an assistant professor in the Department of Economics at Rensselaer, found that traffic accidents in Louisiana decreased by 47% during March and May 2020 when Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards issued a series of orders that closed businesses and schools, limiting mobility throughout the state. Accidents involving injuries decreased by 46% and those where an ambulance was called fell by 41%.

The number of fatal accidents, however, showed no significant decrease.

Dr. Huh’s research also showed that the decline in accidents was not equal across all demographics. Traffic accidents involving males, nonwhite drivers, and individuals in the 25 – 64 age group all saw a smaller reduction in accidents.

“The number of cars on the roads was altered substantially due to these stay-at-home orders,” Dr. Huh said. “Differential effects on individual behaviors might stem from differences in compliance with the lockdown or job characteristics such as whether remote work is possible.”

Dr. Huh was able to calculate the dollar value of the reduction in car accidents by combining publicly available data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration with his findings of a 47% reduction to approximate that the COVID-19 lockdown led to a decrease in car crash costs of $21 billion nationally during the March to May 2020 time period.

“While it may seem obvious that when fewer people are driving due to a public health crisis there would be fewer accidents, the precise magnitude of the impact and who it is impacting most is important and useful information for the public, researchers, and policymakers alike,” he said.

Dr. Huh was joined in the research paper, — “COVID-19 Lockdown and Traffic Accidents: Lessons from the Pandemic” — by Stephen Barnes at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Louis-Philippe Beland at Carleton University (Ottawa), and Dongwoo Kim at Texas Christian University.

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About Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Founded in 1824, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is America’s first technological research university. Rensselaer encompasses five schools, over 30 research centers, more than 140 academic programs including 25 new programs, and a dynamic community made up of over 6,800 students and 104,000 living alumni. Rensselaer faculty and alumni include upwards of 155 National Academy members, six members of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, six National Medal of Technology winners, five National Medal of Science winners, and a Nobel Prize winner in Physics. With nearly 200 years of experience advancing scientific and technological knowledge, Rensselaer remains focused on addressing global challenges with a spirit of ingenuity and collaboration. To learn more, please visit www.rpi.edu.