(The Center Square) — Georgia’s highways are increasingly dangerous for motorists and pedestrians, anecdotal and limited empirical data reveals.
“There are several reasons why drivers have gone haywire since the start of COVID,” Carole Lieberman, a psychiatrist, told The Center Square via email. “When COVID and lockdowns began, there were fewer cars on the streets and highways, so drivers took advantage of this by speeding and making ‘whimsical’ impulsive maneuvers.
“They got away with this much of the time and enjoyed feeling like they ‘owned’ the road,” Lieberman added. So, despite many more cars being on the roads now, these drivers don’t want to give up their fun.”
A new Governors Highway Safety Association analysis reveals that drivers nationwide struck and killed 3,434 people during the first six months of 2022, an increase of 5% from a year earlier. Georgia recorded 109 pedestrian fatalities in the first half of 2019, 103 in 2020 and 165 in 2021, and the number increased to 172 in the first half of 2022.
The finding follows a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration review of Federal Highway Administration data that estimated 1,353 fatalities in Georgia in the first nine months of 2022, up 3.8% from 2021. The number of fatalities nationwide dropped 0.2% during the same period, while the number of fatalities dropped by 2% in the southeast.
“Another reason drivers are out of control is because of drugs, especially the legalization of marijuana,” Lieberman said. “Despite some people claiming that marijuana is ‘no big deal,’ it does impair perception — amongst many other effects.”
Another reason drivers are out of control is because they literally are, Lieberman said.
“Emotionally, people are feeling lost in this ‘new normal,’ whose parameters are still not clear — except that the world seems to be in big trouble,” Lieberman said. “Between inflation, homelessness and the border crisis on the domestic front, and Putin and China spy balloons on the foreign front, many of us feel that the world may be coming to an end — so why not drive recklessly?
“Also, people are angrier than they ever were before,” Lieberman added. “They’re angry that their world has been turned upside down, so they are more aggressive — especially after many hours playing violent video games during lockdown. So, they’re taking out their aggression in the form of road rage — air rage, domestic violence and so on.”
Another issue appears to be policing changes in the past couple of years.
As of April 8, 2022, Georgia had 49,582 officers employed in 1,045 agencies. That’s down roughly 10.6% from 2019, according to the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council.
A POST representative did not immediately respond with newer numbers. Similarly, a spokeswoman for AAA did not respond to a request for comment.
“What’s happening in Georgia the last three years, it’s a reflection of, unfortunately, what’s happening in the nation and the southeast,” Robert Hydrick, communications director for the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, told The Center Square. “We’re all doing everything that we can think of in terms of education, enforcement, better EMS care, better engineering to do what we can to prevent people from losing their lives in traffic crashes.
“The biggest thing is it’s going to take people who are operating motor vehicles to understand that their behavior — that by following traffic laws and just being committed to traffic safety — will help prevent a lot of crashes and save a lot of lives on our roads,” Hydrick added. “Some hopeful signs that we’ve seen in 2020 and 2021 and early 2022 is … fewer people dying on our roads.”
By T.A. DeFeo | The Center Square contributor