COVID-19 is changing everything. Here's what that means for motor vehicle collisions

Motor vehicle collisions might be down nearly 50%, but don’t let down your guard on the roadway or neglect your extrication skills or training


This article, originally published April 15, 2020, has been updated with motor vehicle dispatch data through May 9, 2020. 

COVID-19 Trend: Motor vehicle collisions have declined significantly in all jurisdictions.

Major automobile insurers – Allstate, Farmers, Geico, Nationwide, Progressive, State Farm and USAA – have announced premium discounts or one-time rebates to their customers because COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders have dramatically lowered the number of miles driven by their insured.

Less miles driven results in fewer motor vehicle collisions and reduced losses for insurers to pay out.

I checked with ESO Solutions to see how shelter-in-place orders are impacting responses to motor vehicle collisions.

This ESO chart shows the dramatic reduction in responses coded “MVC” since the first week of March, a few days before President Trump declared a national emergency.

The chart shows the daily variation of calls (the blue line) and the moving average (red line) from Jan. 1, 2020, to April 12, 2020. In this 103-day period, the moving average for more than 2,600 U.S. EMS agencies reporting was about 1,600 MVC dispatches through the first week of March. The moving average has dropped to around 870 MVC dispatches during the first week of April (visit the ESO COVID-19 EMS Surveillance Data page to see other COVID-19 impacts).

Data analysis and image courtesy of ESO Solutions. 
Data analysis and image courtesy of ESO Solutions. 

Most motor vehicle collisions receive a joint response from police, fire and EMS, and a reduction in responses by nearly 50% is surely impacting the daily workload for all responders. Have motor vehicle collisions declined in your response area?

Impact of declining motor vehicle collisions on public safety

In early 2020, there was an unprecedented number of roadway fatalities and injuries to public safety responders. Every major public safety organization, association and training company was sounding the alarm to its members, as well as the public, about the danger of roadway response and the urgent need to make the roads safer for EMTs, paramedics, firefighters, police and tow truck personnel.

1. Roadway is a hot zone

The roadway is still the most dangerous environment for public safety responders and though the volume of vehicles on the roads is significantly lower, the risk of being struck by a distracted or intoxicated driver still exists with potentially lethal consequences. Don’t let your guard down. Treat every motor vehicle collision incident as a WMD hot zone and work with purpose and urgency to perform your tasks and exit the hot zone as rapidly as possible. Apply the WMD concept of time, distance and shielding to lower risk to responders and patients while working to extricate patients and personnel from the hot zone.

2. COVID-19 protection during extrication

COVID-19 is an additional threat at a motor vehicle collision. Dispatch protocols should include asking MVC 911 callers about COVID-19 symptoms and reporting that information to responding units.

If a patient requires extrication, rescuers should apply additional PPE to minimize exposure to COVID-19. If indicated and available, apply a surgical mask to the patients during the extrication process. This might require additional reassurance and de-escalation for a patient who may be injured, as well as anxious from the traumatic experience of a vehicle collision.

Many patients are surprised by the fine, non-toxic powder that surrounds an airbag and ejects into the air. The patient might be experiencing lacrimation (tears) or excess salivation if the powder, cornstarch or talcum powder, is irritating their eyes or mouth. Some patients cry a lot, with accompanying nose blows, if they are upset about injuries or damage. Protect yourself from potentially COVID-19 infected droplets throughout extrication, patient assessment, investigation and patient transport with appropriate PPE.

3. Transport to the most appropriate destination

If patients require additional medical care, transport to the most appropriate destination. During the national emergency, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have suspended the requirement to transport to a hospital to receive reimbursement. This may allow EMS personnel to transport the patient, depending on injury severity, to a non-hospital destination like an urgent care or sobering facility.

4. Keep your tools ready and skills sharp

For most jurisdictions, motor vehicle collisions are high-frequency and high-risk incidents. If the frequency of collisions is significantly lower in your jurisdiction, use the time, as workload and staff allows, to:

Easing of Safer-at-Home orders: MVC responses will return to average or above average

In the weeks and months ahead, travel restrictions will ease and shelter-at-home orders will be lifted. Public safety should expect vehicle travel to quickly return to normal levels as businesses, schools, churches and other mass gathering locations re-open. The AP reported driving "activity during the seven-day period ending May 8 was 60% higher than the lowest point since the COVID-19 crisis began." 

Not surprisingly there is a noticeable increase in the number of MVC dispatches when the time period is expanded to May 9, 2020. Since early April the slope of moving average (red line) has been gradually pointing upward. 

Increase in MVCs with easing of safer-at-home orders
Data analysis and image courtesy of ESO Solutions. 

It’s also reasonable to anticipate privately owned vehicle miles traveled will be above pre-pandemic levels. Parents may choose driving their kids to school rather than allowing their children to sit in the close quarters of a school bus. Commuters, with access to a vehicle and parking, may choose their own vehicle rather than a mass transit bus or train.

How are shelter-at-home orders impacting the types and frequency of calls your public safety agency is responding to? Email me or leave a comment below.

Finally, if you haven’t received a notification of a premium discount or rebate from your automobile insurer, contact them, and, while you are on the phone, ask if they offer a first responder discount.

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