Tennessee traffic deaths up 26% during pandemic despite fewer commuters

Police point to failure to maintain lane
Nashville Traffic
Posted at 5:43 PM, Jun 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-24 19:29:51-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — The number of fatalities on Tennessee roads in 2021 is troubling.

According to the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security, there have been 620 deaths in the first half of 2021. In the first six months of 2020 there were 492 deaths and there were 500 during the same period in 2019, when the pandemic wasn't even on the radar.

"I've noticed that everyone is even more aggressive than before the shutdown," said Jeremy Lyon, owner of Brentwood Driver Training.

Since 1993, Lyon has owned and operated the driving school that serves Nashville, Brentwood and Franklin. While he enjoyed less congestion on the roads during the pandemic, he said it came with a price.

"I think it's been pretty calm for a year and they've forgotten how they were supposed to drive," Lyon said.

Specifically in Nashville, there has been 40% more traffic deaths than this point in 2020 or 2019.

"If you just did the things you knew from the beginning, if you just drove the speed limit it would make a world of a difference in this town," Lyon said.

In the spring, Metro Nashville Police told NewsChannel 5 that traffic enforcement was a priority, but not the highest.

"When you're not out on a call for service, when you're not out doing something that's when you're in your zone, you're patrolling and that's when you start doing your traffic enforcement," said Lt. Michael Gilliland. "That's when you squeeze that into your normal work shift. Those officers are taxed now from the start of their shift to the end of their shift."

Lt. Gilliland said a leading contributing factor to the rise in fatal crashes is drivers failing to maintain their lane. He said distraction can cause that to happen.

"It's everybody. Young, old, middle age. When that phone dings it's like Pavlov. You just reach for it," Lt. Gilliland said.

The driving instructor hopes his students model good behavior when it's their time to get behind the wheel.

"I hope that when they start going back to school they will just be really careful. Drive the speed limit, keep a good following distance from everybody for awhile, forever, because they are not going to be used to it at all," Lyon said.