SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – The number of deadly car crashes has already hit record highs for the year, and the sharp increase is puzzling safety experts.

What might be the most confusing for experts is that there are fewer people on the roads than there were before the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite lower traffic volumes, accidents keep happening at a greater frequency.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, deadly crashes hit their highest quarterly total in the first three months of this year- seven percent higher than the first quarter of 2021 and 22 percent higher than in 2019.

That reverses a pre-pandemic trend, which saw traffic deaths drop for three consecutive years going into 2020.

22News spoke with Mark Schieldrop of AAA Northeast, who said the uptick in dangerous driving behaviors can be attributed to several factors, “It is likely that when the pandemic began and lockdowns happened, the roads were empty and people found that they could drive upwards of 100 mph. The other issue is that the number of citations overall seems to be going down at the same time.”

There is also a trend of decreased traffic enforcement. A 2021 study of 1,000 police officers found that 60 percent of them were less likely to stop a vehicle during the pandemic than they were before 2020.

Records indicate that people are driving without a seat belt, above the speed limit, and while impaired at higher rates than before the pandemic began. Experts say it is also possible that more people are texting and using their cell phones while driving, possibly contributing to more deadly crashes.

Mark said that reversing this trend starts with drivers slowing down, maintaining a safe following distance and simply being courteous to others sharing the road.