Fatal crashes spike during ‘stay at home’ order on Minnesota roadways

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Call it the ‘stay at home’ effect.

"Everybody’s scared," says taxi driver Daofeek Gaiyeismsifi. "Nobody wants to die."

Even major highways in the metro area are relatively quiet.

The Minnesota Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) says traffic volume in the Twin Cities has dropped 47%. Statewide, the number of cars on the roads has dropped in half. But authorities say there is a frightening flip side.

"Speed is a huge issue, and people driving in a reckless or careless manner," says OTS Director Mike Hanson.

The result: Traffic fatalities are up, even though there are fewer vehicles on the roads.

"Oh yeah, they’re definitely speeding out there," says Robert Backlin, of Minneapolis. "You see them driving down the roads here, people blowing through red lights they normally wouldn’t. Driving like maniacs, tooting their horns."

State Patrol reminds drivers to slow down, prevent crashes during COVID-19 pandemic

OTS said between March 16 and April 7 of this year, there were 24 crashes and 28 deaths. In 2019, there were 12 crashes and 13 deaths. In 2018, the office reports there were 13 crashes and 15 deaths.

"As traffic got lighter, these extreme speeds, these folks zipping in and out of traffic was much more pronounced, more aggressive," Hanson says.

Authorities say speeding, careless driving and blowing through red lights are the main causes of these fatal crashes.

A wide-open road is a big temptation to speed, experts say.

"I’m sure if there’s not a lot of cars on the road, they’re going to go as fast as they want," says George Swedlund. " I just try to keep my eyes on the road and stay safe."

But as the COVID-19 peak begins, traffic experts say the increase in fatal and serious crashes is going to cause more problems.

"This has to stop because we’re taking resources for our motor vehicle crashes," Hanson says. "Resources that could be used in [Intensive Care Units] for our COVID-19 neighbors."