There may be fewer cars on the roads during the COVID-19 pandemic, but severe crashes and extreme speeding are on the rise in Chicago. Citizens are treating local highways like a racetrack at the Indianapolis 500.
“It’s a stressful and trying time for everyone,” Chicago personal injury attorney Mark McNabola said, “but that doesn’t mean we can ignore the rules of the road. If you have to go out, drive defensively and be on the lookout for crazy reckless drivers.”
Since Illinois’ stay-at-home order took effect March 21, the overall number of car crashes in Chicago has dropped by more than half as fewer drivers take to the road, according to researchers at the Northwestern University Transportation Center (NUTC).
But severe crashes — those resulting in incapacitating injuries or death — have been increasing.
“We have seen a slight increase in the fraction of severe crashes,” said Hani Mahmassani, Ph.D., a Northwestern University professor and director of the school’s transportation center. His team analyzed data from March 1 to April 25. “It’s a small fraction, but higher nonetheless, and it has continued to be higher than before the lockdown.”
Mahmassani said speed is a likely culprit, echoing a nationwide trend.
And that only makes sense; the faster the cars are going, the more severe the injuries and damage when a collision occurs.
As roads become less congested, police agencies across the U.S. are reporting a significant increase in speeding, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA). A number of states, including Indiana, have seen a surge in vehicles clocked at 100 mph or more.
“People are saying, ‘Wow, the roads are wide open. There’s no one here but me,’” Pam Shadel Fischer, a senior director at GHSA, said in an interview with Stateline. “We’re seeing incredibly crazy, off-the-chart speed and aggressiveness.”
In Minnesota, there were 28 traffic crash fatalities from March 16 to April 7, compared to 13 in the same timeframe last year. The California Highway Patrol has reported an 87-percent increase in citations issued for speeding in excess of 100 mph. And in New York City, the number of speeding tickets issued by automated speeding cameras has almost doubled, with nearly 25,000 tickets issued on March 27 alone.
“It’s crazy. People are driving like idiots,” Buffalo Grove police Chief Steven Casstevens told Stateline. “I’m on a tollway at least 15 miles as part of my own travel to work, and every morning I get passed by no less than 15 cars doing over 100 miles an hour.”
In a 2019 report, the GHSA said speeding was a “persistent factor” in nearly one-third of all motor-vehicle-related fatalities.
If you’re involved in a car crash during the novel coronavirus outbreak, it’s important to follow the same procedures you normally would.
– Document the crash. Stay on the scene, call the police and get a police report. Take photos and exchange insurance information with the other driver(s). If possible, get contact information for any witnesses.
– Do not give a statement. You are not required to speak to the other driver, his or her attorney, or most importantly, the driver’s insurance company. Sometimes citizens are manipulated into providing a statement to the insurance company, thinking it is required or will serve some benefit to them. It does not. The insurance company is trying to trap you before you have the protection of a lawyer. Always avoid providing written or oral statements to the other driver, his or her attorney and his or her insurance company.
– Document your injuries. If you’re hurt in a crash, visit a doctor immediately. You should also keep a record of each appointment, prescription and hospital visit. It is important to know you are creating a record regarding the cause and severity of your injury. You need to be careful to be clear with your communication to any medical providers.
– Do not sign anything unless it is abundantly clear and meets your objective. If you sign a release document, you will sign away your right to pursue additional damages. It is important to be careful or better yet consult with an attorney before signing anything.
– Consult an attorney. A personal injury attorney can help you protect yourself and seek financial compensation for your injuries or damage to your vehicle after a crash. Needless to say, the insurance company for the driver who is at fault will do everything in its power to limit payments to you. Generally speaking, under Illinois law, victims have two years from the date of a crash to file a lawsuit in civil court. However, that time frame is reduced to one year if the claim is against a municipal government, such as a city or county, so you need to be careful and do not delay.