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Motor vehicle deaths increase despite fewer cars on the road during COVID-19

Oct. 26, 2020, 9:29 AM


by Jessica Pasley

Despite a decrease in the volume of cars on the road during the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that driving patterns and behaviors were riskier, leading to an increase in accident-related fatalities since April 2020.

The data is alarming for safety experts at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt.

According to Purnima Unni, MPH, Pediatric Trauma Injury Prevention manager at Children’s Hospital, the recently released study points to the importance of the “Be in the Zone — Turn Off Your Phone” (BITZ) campaign. BITZ addresses the growing problem of teen motor vehicle crashes in Tennessee.

“There was some encouragement in 2019 and in the first half of 2020, that the number of fatalities decreased nationwide,” said Unni. “While a decrease in the number of fatalities on our roads is welcome, the agency also noted that since April, there has been an uptick in motor vehicle-related deaths. That trend is very concerning.”

Unni said the partnership between the hospital and Ford Motor Company Fund and the Allstate Foundation is instrumental in working to increase awareness among teenage drivers about the dangers of distracted driving.

“During the height of the national public health emergency and associated lockdowns, driving patterns and behaviors changed significantly, and drivers who remained on the roads engaged in more risky behavior, including speeding, failing to wear seat belts, and driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol,” reads the study. “Traffic data indicates that average speeds increased during the second quarter, and examples of extreme speeds became more common, while the evidence suggests that fewer people involved in crashes used their seat belts.”

Every day in the United States, nine people die from a distracted-driving motor vehicle crash, with six of these deaths being drivers between 16 to 19 years old.

“With fewer cars on the road, driving behaviors and patterns have drastically changed, prompting a more urgent need to raise awareness about distracted driving. It’s so important that we highlight the need to remember to put our phones away, wear our seat belts and stick to the speed limits,” said Unni.

During the pandemic, BITZ continues to operate and spread the message of safe driving.

This year, eight high schools are participating in the campaign to spread the message about safe driving practices with the help of a $100,000 grant by Ford Motor Company Fund and $65,000 grant from the Allstate Foundation.

“We continue to be more thrilled with the efforts of the staff at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt,” said Jim Graham, global manager, Ford Driving Skills for Life. “Their dedication, passion and enthusiasm with the Be in the Zone program are certainly commendable.”

As one of the nation’s leading children’s hospitals, it is responsible for modeling safety and injury prevention practices for many other hospitals and organizations throughout the state.

Ford Motor Company Fund and the Allstate Foundation have assisted with supporting the teen driver safety program since 2011.

“We are proud to support a program that addresses the growing problem of teen motor crashes in Tennessee,” said Andrea Richard, Allstate spokesperson. “The Allstate Foundation is committed to making roadways safer for teenagers and everyone who shares the road with them. That’s why we’re honored to be a part of a cause that educates teen drivers on the dangers of texting while driving and encourages them to promote safe driving practices among their peers and in their community.”

The program has reached more than 109 high schools and approximately 117,000 students since its creation. The hospital-school collaborative educates Tennessee teen drivers of the dangers of texting while driving over the course of an entire school year.

Amid the pandemic, students have been challenged to think of activities to spread the message of safe driving virtually as well as face-to-face.

The following schools are participating in the 2020-2021 campaign: Station Camp High School, Cookeville High School, Marshall County High School, East Hickman High School, Springfield High School, LEAD Academy High School, Brentwood High School and Holloway High School.

To learn more about the program visit:

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