Thursday, July 9, 2020

New Report for April Shows Covid-19 Had One Beneficial Effect as Road Death Tolls Fall Across Europe

Speeding Offences and HGV Driver Deaths in Spain Up but Generally Safety Improved
Shipping News Feature

EUROPE – It's a hard thing to take away any positives from the current pandemic with a steadily rising casualty list across the world, however whilst there can be no getting away from the pain and misery created, there is a degree of mitigation in that the death toll on the roads has dropped significantly during the Covid-19 outbreak.

Preliminary data emanating from the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC) shows an average 36% drop in road deaths in April 2020 compared to the average of the same month in the previous three years. The data is included in the organisation’s latest report which collates the information from 25 EU Member States.

The highest reduction in road deaths was recorded in Italy (84%), followed by Belgium, Spain, France and Greece with decreases of over 59%. But reductions in traffic did not lead to reductions in deaths in all countries. In Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands road deaths during the month of April remained similar or were even higher than in previous years. Notably, Sweden had less strict Covid-19 containment measures compared to many other EU countries.

The research also indicates that deaths in general did not decline by the same degree as traffic volume. More research is needed to understand the full reasons but speeding, higher numbers of vulnerable road users on often unprotected infrastructure, as well as changes to enforcement levels may have all played a role.

Comparable data for instances of speeding are not available, but reports and evidence gathered from more than ten countries strongly suggest that speeding may have been a major factor in increased collision severity and therefore a higher risk of death. The facts revealed include:

  • Denmark published official data showing a 10% increase in the proportion of drivers speeding
  • French speed camera data showed a 16% increase in the most serious speeding offences (50% above the legal speed limit) compared to the same period last year
  • Estonia recorded a 22% increase in the proportion of drivers exceeding the speed limit on main rural roads compared with April 2018-2019 average
  • In Spain, speed violations detected on a sample of fixed safety cameras increased by 39% on non-urban roads compared with the same period in 2019
  • In Sweden, no increase in speeding was recorded

One other fact from a UK insurer that uses telematics to monitor young policyholders, reported a 15% increase in speed alerts sent to drivers that exceeded speed limits and Simon Lole, Managing Director of transport insurance specialist Peter Lole said the technology was playing an active part in reducing accidents, commenting:

”Drivers, particularly those on the roads in commercial vehicles, are being studied more and more using telematic technology. Whereas previously a driver might rush to finish a round, or hasten to get to delivery or collection point during opening hours, this is now not possible without the facts being recorded.

”The technology not only helps road haulage operators assess their own driver’s performance, but protects him or her from following an instruction to break the law from an overeager transport manager. Historically there have always been those willing to take a chance that they won’t be caught speeding. Now there is no way to deny culpability and it’s having a beneficial effect on accident statistics.”

Data separated by vehicle type is not yet available in most countries, however Spain recorded a significant increase in Heavy Goods Vehicle driver deaths. The full reasons for this are not yet known. The issue with drivers working longer hours under increased pressure during the confinement period across the EU needs to be analysed. Many countries suspended EU rules on driving and resting times for professional drivers in certain sectors during the lockdown.

One statistic which will doubtless be seized on by the road haulage sector in the UK which has concerns over the matter, shows the Netherlands recorded frontal impact collisions between cyclists for the first time, possibly indicating that cycle paths were too narrow to accommodate changes in usage. Cyclist deaths in Czechia increased by 86%. Dovilė Adminaitė, ETSC Road Safety Performance Index project manager, who led the research, commented:

“The Covid-19 lockdown has led to a huge disruption in mobility in Europe. There have been positive changes such as a rise in people walking and cycling and the installation of pop-up cycle infrastructure and lower speed limits in dense urban areas. However there will be big risks moving forward if people avoid public transport and prioritise car use in urban areas.

”We need to rapidly improve the infrastructure for walking and cycling in urban, but also in rural areas. If governments, cities and towns don’t adapt to this new reality, the saving of lives on the roads during lockdown could soon be reversed.”

The full ETSC report for the Impact of Covi-19 Lockdowns on Road Deaths in April 2020 can be downloaded HERE.

Photo: Deserted city streets are reminiscent of numerous science fiction plague films but have become a reality in many places. (Paris courtesy of ETSC).