An Unintended Benefit of the Coronavirus: Less Death on the Road

Working at home is saving lives.

Density of injury/fatal accidents on state highways and certain major roads.  (A) between 3/21/2020 and 3/30/2020 and (B) between 3/21/2019 and 3/30/2019.(Picture courtesy of UC-Davis)

Density of injury/fatal accidents on state highways and certain major roads. (A) between 3/21/2020 and 3/30/2020 and (B) between 3/21/2019 and 3/30/2019. (Picture courtesy of UC-Davis)

As we hunker down in our homes feeling lonely and sorry for ourselves, already nostalgic for the camaraderie around the coffee maker at work, the high fives at our meetings, the podcasts during the commute, we may want to remind ourselves of the safety of being home. Not only do we secure ourselves against the invasion of the COVID-19 virus, we do away with the daily risk we put ourselves in just by getting in our cars.

In 2019, the US had 38,800 deaths in vehicular accidents, according to the National Safety Council. That’s over 100 deaths per day in vehicle accidents.

An unintended – and most welcome — consequence of California’s Governor Gavin Newsom’s shelter in place rules that went into effect in March 19 has been the reduction in traffic deaths and injuries. A study just released by University of California-Davis says the work-at-home rules most Californians are abiding by may be cutting deaths and injuries in half, or approximately 200 a day.

The Virus Taketh and the Virus Giveth Away

Governor Newsom was the first governor to go statewide with a Shelter in Place policy, just a little less severe than a lockdown which would have meant needing a government-issued hall pass to go out. [Author lives in Marin County, California, Ed.]

Yesterday, we learned the number of deaths from the Coronavirus in California reached 200, with the first death recorded March 4, almost a month ago from the time of this writing. The UC-Davis report shows that number of injuries and deaths being lowered by that amount every day.

It may be time to examine what led us to this state, where we’re comfortable with a commute that lasts for hours, that robs us of time with loved ones and friends. We use “supercommuter” as a badge of honor, exemplified by a person who travels 6 hours a day to work in San Francisco, one of the most expensive real estate markets in the world.

Working at home does away with redundancy. Why heat, pay, own, rent one place 24 hours a day and work in another place that must also be also be maintained and paid for around the clock? With 19% of our energy being used for commercial buildings and 22% used for residential, does it make sense to combine the two whenever we can? Add to the savings a chunk from the energy used for transportation (28%), we add even more fuel to fire, as it were, to the argument for working at home.

The Earth Takes a Breath

The Coronavirus that has made us have less cars on the road has also made for less planes in the air, less factories belching out smoke, less refineries, less production and burning of coal. With less office buildings being heated, there are less carbon emissions. The effects may not be noticed at the moment, given that we are in a panic mode, but some of us have predicted the green benefit of the Coronavirus.

“In China alone, it’s estimated that 78,000 fewer people will die this year because of reduced pollution during the shutdown,” states Ben Abbott, assistant professor of Ecosystem Ecology, Brigham Young University in a previous article.  “That’s more people than have died worldwide from the pandemic.”

We are not suggesting that all lives are equal, or that lives lost from the COVID-19 are any less tragic than lives lost on the road. But simple math on just two groups of people, the ones affected by the COVID-19 and the group that drives to work, suggests a supreme irony: the Coronavirus may overall be saving lives by keeping us at home.