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When the pandemic first started last year, much was reported about the sharp decrease in traffic through Southern California — especially in Los Angeles. However, traffic has been increasing over the last few months. And now that restrictions are being lifted and schools are opening back up, “We’re seeing a lot of people going back to their daily commute most definitely,” as Amber Wright from the CHP told ABC7.
Back in Mar. of last year, the number of vehicles on the road — which reportedly fell by more than half — wasn’t the only factor that changed. With everyone stuck at home, ridership on the LA Metro fell by half; Traffic through Los Angeles International Airport plummeted 95%; and Bird and Lime e-scooters temporarily halted operations for everyone except essential workers.
According to data from traffic analytics company INRIX, traffic in the Los Angeles metro area has hovered around 80% of pre-pandemic levels since about the end of June. In the last few weeks of Feb., though, it looks like there’s been a spike, pushing traffic to nearly 90% of pre-pandemic levels. The only other time that traffic had gotten that high since the pandemic started was on Nov. 25, right before Thanksgiving.
Doug Shupe from AAA speculated that the upcoming spring break and people choosing to travel by car rather than plane could be a factor that worsens traffic in the city even further. “A lot of folks are looking at their vehicles to take that old-fashioned American road trip, and so with the increased demand for fuel at the pumps here in sunny California that puts upward pressure on the prices,” he told ABC7.
Moreover, the CHP said there was a drop in traffic accidents during the pandemic since there were fewer cars. But as traffic picks up, people need to adjust and be careful, according to Wright. “Commute time is definitely increasing. It’s not uncommon for people to be a little more on edge because of the traffic,” she noted.
And though according to the CHP the number of accidents fell during the pandemic, traffic fatalities reportedly increased nationally and excessive speeding was a leading contributor to the carnage. As seen in Los Angeles in the early days of the pandemic, some drivers took open lanes as an invitation for reckless driving, with speeding doubling in the city, which ultimately made roadways more lethal in 2020.
According to the LA Times, the CHP saw an alarming 87% increase in citations for speeding in excess of 100 mph. During the month after the start of the stay-at-home-order in Mar., the CHP issued 2,493 tickets throughout California for speeding over 100 mph — almost doubling the amount of the same offense seen during the same period in 2019.
At the national level, though people drove less because of stay-at-home orders and increased telecommuting, the fatality rate per mile driven reportedly rose 24% in 2020. Meanwhile, the number of miles driven nationwide decreased by 15%. Experts cited speeding and aggressive, impaired, and distracted driving as the primary causes for the increase.
In a statement, the National Safety Council said: “In the midst of the worst health crisis in more than a century, we are experiencing even deadlier roadways.”