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Freeway traffic crashes down, speeds going up
downtown Ceres freeway
Traffic on Highway 99 through Ceres has been noticeably decreased since the state enacted a stay-in-place order for all “non-essential workers” and the layoff of millions in the country. Traffic crashes also have seen a corresponding decrease.

With fewer people traveling back and forth to workplaces, closure of schools and curtailment of vacations because of the closure of national parks and state beaches, the rate of traffic accidents has also occurred in the Central Valley.

A report issued by the Road Ecology Center at the University of California, Davis, noted that California traffic accidents have been reduced in half since the shelter-in-place order on March 20. The report indicated that some highways are seeing traffic volume down as much as 55 percent. The report estimates that, since the order took effect, crashes have plunged from about 1,000 to 500 per day, and those with injuries or deaths have gone from roughly 400 to 200 per day. There was a period in early April when collisions spiked, but it was due to heavy rains.

The reduction in crashes works out to about 15,000 fewer collisions per month and 6,000 fewer injury/fatal accidents per month directly or indirectly attributable to the shelter-in-place order. 

There was a similar 40 percent decrease in trauma-injury incidents reported among hospitals in the Sacramento region. There were fewer people treated in trauma centers and emergency departments in Sacramento region hospitals after the Governors order. This was especially true for pedestrian and cyclists, who experienced an almost 50 percent reduction in traumatic injuries. There was no similar change seen in 2019 around this time period.

However, some drivers are taking advantage of less crowded highways to speed. Caltrans recently announced a joint effort with the California Highway Patrol and the California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) to urge drivers in California to slow down given a recent 87 percent increase in citations for speeding faster than 100 mph that coincides.

From March 19 when the state’s stay-at-home order began to April 19, the CHP reports issuing 2,493 citations statewide for speeding more than 100 mph, as compared to 1,335 during the same period last year. This increase in citations occurred as Caltrans has measured an average decline in traffic volume on state roads of approximately 35 percent as compared to this time last year.

 “Excessive speed and unsafe driving threaten everyone using our highway system,” said Caltrans Director Toks Omishakin. “Viewing less congested roads as an invitation to drive dangerously jeopardizes the safety of construction and maintenance crews who are working to maintain reliable access to our highways when people need it most.”

“It is alarming to see the number of citations officers are writing for excessive speeds on California roadways,” said CHP Commissioner Warren Stanley. “Higher speeds can lead to much more serious injuries and significantly increase the chance of death should a crash occur. Keep yourself and those on the road around you safe. Slow down and drive at a safe, legal speed.”

California’s “Move Over” law continues to be in effect and requires all drivers to move over a lane or, if unable to do so safely, slow down when they see amber flashing lights on Caltrans vehicles, law enforcement and emergency vehicles, and tow trucks.

“Fewer cars on the road doesn’t give drivers the green light to travel over the speed limit,” OTS Director Barbara Rooney said. “Driving at a safe speed when you must go out is one way to keep you and your family safe during this pandemic.”

California’s more than 700 electronic highway signs will also soon display the following types of safety-related messages:

During the COVID-19 emergency, Caltrans continues to provide the general public with a safe and reliable transportation system. The department is maintaining all critical functions during this crisis, including ensuring roadway access to medical facilities and the convenient transport of essential goods and services throughout the state. Some non-essential work has been deferred to limit spread of the COVID-19 virus, but maintenance and construction crews are still addressing hazards, safety concerns and other critical functions on the highways.