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Tennessee State Highway Patrol Trooper Wade Clepper enters an ID and works up a report after making a surprise safety inspection at the Monteagle weigh station on I-24 East on October 1, 2015. Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga Times Free Press.

No, you're not the only one with the thought. People really are driving more recklessly these days.

On Friday, two Chattanooga Police Department patrol cars, at separate active crash scenes with emergency equipment activated, were hit by passing motorists. Fortunately, only one officer was slightly injured.

In both cases, the motorists were arrested for driving under the influence. But that's just two instances.

Meanwhile, you've noticed that drivers are less willing to move over to let you on to an interstate from an entrance ramp, that drivers are more willing to pull out in front of you and force you to slam on your brakes, and that more drivers stay on your tail on a two-lane road when you're going the speed limit (or slightly above it) because they absolutely, positively must get to their destination 45 seconds sooner than they might have otherwise.

None of those instances, to your knowledge, have led to accidents. But many others have.

In Tennessee in March, according to the state Department of Transportation, the increase in reckless driving was particularly acute. This year, 163 people lost their lives on state roads. In 2020, 77 died in the same month, and in 2019, 65 perished.

Overall, in 2021 to date, 368 have died on state roads, compared to 297 in both 2020 and 2019.

Highway death rates in the Volunteer State have risen for the last three years, last year's 1,221 deaths the highest number since 2006 (and 85 more than 2019). The fatality rate per miles driven also increased each of those years.

The numbers closer to home aren't much more promising.

To date, in the Tennessee Highway Patrol's 12-county Chattanooga district, 34 people have been killed on state roads. That's 14 more than lost their lives over the same period both in 2019 and 2020.

Both Hamilton County and Chattanooga have slightly smaller numbers over the period, traffic deaths in the county numbering 12 to date in 2021, compared to 14 in 2020 and 18 in 2019, and in Chattanooga eight to date, compared to 10 in 2020 and 16 in 2019.

With lockdowns due to the coronavirus pandemic in late March and April of 2020, one might have expected to see lower numbers all around in 2020, but that wasn't the case. And, if Tennessee is any example, that trend has continued into 2021.

Anecdotally across the country, death rates, fatality rates per mile and speed have increased.

And, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 65% of drivers who ended up in trauma centers after serious accidents in the first four months of 2020 tested positive for alcohol and drugs.

It is a mercy the motorists who hit the CPD patrol cars didn't wind up there. The officer will heal, and the damaged patrol cars only will temporarily set the department back.

In the meantime, police remind the public there is an actual law that commands drivers to get out of the way of emergency vehicles.

The "Move Over Law," passed by the Tennessee General Assembly in 2006, requires motorists to move into the adjacent lane of traffic, when safe to do so, or alternatively to slow down for emergency vehicles. In 2011, the law was expanded to include utility service equipment on the list of vehicles for which motorists are required to either slow down or move over.

Tennessee was the 30th state to pass such a law, the violation of which may be penalized by a maximum fine of up to $500 and possibly up to 30 days in jail.

Whether the incidents involve emergency vehicles or just two drivers, experts say something about the pandemic has made things a little worse.

Writing for kevinmd.com, for instance, Dr. Cristina Carballo-Perelman cites "evidence suggesting an increase in an 'everyone for themselves' attitude, which negatively impacts the health and wellbeing of others."

Others say the pandemic has given people an "empathy deficit," which might carry over to their driving habits.

People naturally want others to see and understand the pain they are enduring, say Northeastern University psychology professor emeritus Judith Hall and Duke University professor emeritus of psychology and neuroscience Mark Leary, writing in Scientific American.

"But opportunities to give and receive empathy feel less than adequate these days: decreased social interaction, online get-togethers, air hugs and masked conversations are not quite up to the task — and people are often so preoccupied with their own struggles that they aren't as attuned to other people's problems as they otherwise might be," they write.

On top of that, "everyone is confronted with people who seem indifferent."

Indifferent, though, is the last attitude people should have toward driving, pandemic or no pandemic. So calm down, slow down and give emergency vehicles — and everyone else — a break.

If you drive carefully, as the old traffic highway safety commercials used to remind us, the life you save may be your own.

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