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Post-corona recklessness partly behind traffic accidents, researcher says

Flagrant disregard for speed limits and other traffic offences have increased recently, traffic officials said.

A sense of abandon and recklessness after crisis restrictions may be causing people to drop their guard in traffic, expert says. Image: Jyrki Lyytikkä / Yle
Yle News

The rollback of restrictions due to the coronavirus crisis has created a sense of abandon and recklessness that may be reflected in people’s behaviour in traffic, according to a traffic psychologist.

"It seems that the end of this period of anxiety and a new sense of freedom have boosted this phenomenon of the “cows being let out in the pasture," traffic psychologist and researcher Martti Peräaho of private behavioural research and training firm Humaani said.

Police have also said that they have observed more instances than usual of disregard for speed limits and other aggravated traffic offences, following recent reports of several fatalities and serious injuries in traffic accidents.

Peräaho said that the excitement of new-found freedom makes it easier for people to forget to look out for others in traffic.

"Very few people are known to deliberately want to harm or kill themselves. People are driven by a desire for safety. There are other motivations alongside that perhaps have now become more powerful, such as social interaction. The purpose of that interaction may have overshadowed the need for safety," he added.

Curbs hit young people hard

In other words, when people are surrounded by friends after a long time, consume alcohol and have fun, it is easier for the situation to get out of hand. Peräaho said that he has noticed the same phenomenon, not only in traffic, but also in other situations while observing crowds gathering along the banks of the Aura River in Turku.

"Freedom and alcohol result in [people] not thinking too much about what they are doing," he added.

Constraints imposed to curb the spread of Covid-19 have especially affected and continue to affect the movements of teens and young adults.

"With bars closed and few events, including festivals available, what options for leisure activities are left? [They have] gone out in their cars, mopeds and motorcycles to meet others. And if they use intoxicants on top of that then the risk of an accident rises," Finnish Road Safety Council research head Juha Valtonen said.

He said that since the start of the epidemic, traffic officials have seen an increase in speeding and drunk driving in Finland as well as elsewhere in Europe.

"I don’t think one can make a direct connection between driving license reforms introduced a couple years ago and the recent rise in road accidents," Valtonen noted, likely referring to a series of reforms designed to allow 17-year-olds to get special licenses and to make it easier to get a driver's license.

Officials will not know the cause of the fatal accidents that took place during spring and summer until next year, when formal investigations into the incidents are completed.

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