The Impact of COVID-19 on Road Safety
The Covid-19 coronavirus took the country by surprise earlier this year and we are now living in a world that looks a lot different to how it did just a few months ago. As the Government battles to pull us through this, and the national media focuses on the health of the nation and stories of our NHS Heroes, the current situation continues to have an important, but largely unreported, impact on how we use the roads safely - something all those involved in road risk management need to be aware of.
Here are 10 ways coronavirus is affecting road safety:
1: Lower traffic levels = poor driver behaviour
When lockdown started, the traffic levels dropped massively. Unfortunately, this has been matched by police forces around the country reporting huge increases in the number of people being stopped for excessive speeding, with many topping a ton. Follow @SuptAndyCox of the Met Police on Twitter to see some of the worst stories – last week alone they enforced over 2000 speeding offences across London compared to just 268 in the same week of 2019! This included one Covidiot clocked at 163mph on the M1.
2: Mental health
It is understandable that most of us will have concerns about what the future holds, including anxieties about job security and finances, and worries about the health of family and friends. These concerns could be particularly distracting for drivers on the road when the lower levels of traffic may lull us into a false sense of security. A lack of concentration means we’re less good an anticipating others’ actions. This, in turn, could also lead to an increased lack of tolerance of others’ mistakes and an increase in road rage incidents.
3: Driver fatigue
Many essential fleets and drivers are operating at, or beyond, normal capacity. In addition, the Government has suspended the enforcement of drivers’ hours restrictions to help ease the burden of red tape. However, the pressure is incessant on these drivers and without proper breaks they could become dangerously fatigued, especially if they are also suffering from any of the distractions outlined in point 2 which may also be causing sleep deprivation. Additionally, many delivery drivers are finding the lower levels of traffic allow them to make a greater number of deliveries per hour. This extra physical stress could also exacerbate their fatigue.
4: Essential drivers in unfamiliar vehicles
Another aspect of the extreme pressure that essential fleets are operating under is the need to increase capacity with many companies having to instigate massive recruitment drives. This means we could be seeing drivers who are, for instance, unfamiliar with vans and being sent out on the roads with next to no formal induction assessment or training. Additionally, there are stories of drivers being promoted within fleets without the additional training that may be required. The driver of a car-derived van, who is suddenly promoted and given a large panel van, may well not know the two types of van are required to observe different speed limits.
5: Vehicle maintenance
With the temporary closure of most garages, the Government has had to suspend MOTs, and extend the intervals between more detailed inspections on larger commercial vehicles. Conducting a regular walkaround check of your vehicle has, therefore, never been more important as these changes have NOT removed the requirement to always ensure your vehicle is roadworthy. And the challenge isn’t going to end with the lifting of lockdown restrictions – garages will have such a massive backlog of MOTs and services to get through we could see a significant increase in the number of badly maintained cars, with no MOT once the suspension has expired and, therefore, unable to be taxed. The potential for breakdowns or mechanical failure-related incidents will be higher.
Coming out of Lockdown:
6: Readjust to traffic levels
During the lockdown we’ve got used to artificially low levels of traffic. As the lockdown restrictions are lifted, the traffic levels are going to rise again and that will require increased levels of concentration in order to stay safe. It is likely we will have to concentrate even more than before to make allowances for those who aren’t concentrating as much as they need to.
7: Commercial vehicle driver reinstatement
Commercial vehicle drivers who have been furloughed may have not driven during lockdown, or only driven a private car on occasional short journeys. They will therefore need to time to readjust to the size and visibility restrictions of their vehicles, especially in view of the following three points, which show they will be having to contend with some very unpredictable behaviour from other road users.
8: Pedestrian behaviour
I have now personally seen a number of instances where pedestrians have walked out to cross a road without looking, head buried in their phone, expecting there to be no traffic. On a couple of occasions, there has been a car or van, sometimes speeding (see point 1) and both have narrowly avoided a collision. As the traffic levels rise, the chance of a third party injury collision is also likely to rise.
9: New motorcyclists
We’re being told that social distancing rules are here to stay for some time so people are obviously reticent to use public transport again – hands up who’s looking forward to going to work on a crowded commuter train or bus again? It is no coincidence that there has been a recent spike in applications for motorcycle CBT training as people look for alternative ways to commute with as little human contact as possible. We could therefore find we’re suddenly sharing the roads with a significant number of new and inexperienced motorcyclists.
10: Different people on the roads
The necessary take up of video conferencing options has led to an epiphany for many, with firms across the country declaring that working from home could be the new normal for many staff. This could mean we will see a significant reduction in traditional company car and grey fleet mileage from regular business drivers. The flip side is that when longer journeys are necessary, to attend meetings or other events, and people would normally travel by train, reduced ticket availability and fear of infection means we could see less experienced drivers taking to the roads instead. A perceived need to try to undertake unreasonably long return journeys in a single day could lead to an increase in fatigue-related incidents.
Further ones added after publication:
11: Narrower Roads
Roads in London (and other places?) are being narrowed in order to facilitate social distancing of pedestrians on pavements. This may be OK when traffic levels are low but, then again, it may not be OK because speeds are increasing. What are the various authorities' plans for removing these temporary changes and monitoring the road safety implications as traffic levels start to rise again?
The government is now actively encouraging commuters to take up cycling to avoid public public transport and get fit and healthy at the same time. Cyclists need to understand they are vulnerable road users and take appropriate care to avoid putting themselves in unnecessary danger from other road users. Commercial vehicle drivers also need to ensure they look out for two-wheeled road users and anticipate that they may be inexperienced road users.
13: Driver distraction
We have all got used to relying on technology throughout the lockdown, whether that be to help us work from home, or keep us entertained while furloughed. Through either temptation or new habit, there is the risk of an increase in drivers being distracted by their devices as they return to the road.
This is an unprecedented situation and it presents many challenges for road safety. Many fleet operators, though by no means all of them, are currently grappling with points 1 to 5. The vast majority will have not even thought about the safety implications in bringing drivers back on to the roads as lockdown restrictions are lifted.
It is therefore essential that every opportunity is taken to communicate these risks to drivers so they can prepare themselves for the challenges ahead and get back on the road as safely as possible.
Simon Turner Chairman, ARRM
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