Last week, transport secretary Grant Shapps provided the first indication of the impact Covid-19 restrictions have had on road casualty statistics.
Speaking to the Transport Committee, Mr Shapps revealed that the number of people killed or seriously injured in road collisions fell by 70% during lockdown.
While of course, any drop in casualties is welcome, it is worth noting it comes against a backdrop of a 60% reduction in motor vehicle traffic between February and April.
Therefore it may have been expected – despite evidence highlighting a rise in speeding as a result of fewer cars on the road.
Perhaps the real impact will only become clear when the Government publishes its official statistics for the period and a comparison can be made in terms of the rate of fatalities per billion vehicle miles.
The latest Government figures, published in September 2019, show the figure fell by 1% from 5.43 in 2017 to 5.38 in 2018.
Looking forward, questions remain over what might happen as traffic levels continue to rise – with the latest estimates suggesting it is now at 70% of pre-lockdown levels.
Despite this, Mr Shapps says there has been an increase in collisions – although he admits it is still early days.
The issue is particularly pertinent with Covid-19 leading to a rise in the number of people walking and cycling as people follow Government advice to avoid public transport.
The vulnerability of cyclists and pedestrians is well documented – in 2018, these two road user groups contributed to 32% of road fatalities, despite only accounting for 4% of the total distance travelled.
The Government was quick to recognise this in its desire to promote active travel as part of the Covid-19 response – and in May pledged £250m for emergency safety measures, such as pop-up bike lanes, wider pavements and cycle and bus-only streets.
It also published new guidance requiring councils in England to cater for ‘significantly increased’ numbers of cyclists and pedestrians – making it easier for them to create safer streets.
Can Covid-19 be a catalyst to reduce road casualties?
Throughout the pandemic, there has been a lot of talk about whether it can provide a step-change on issues such as pollution and the environment – which of course transport has a big impact upon.
The challenge for the DfT is to ensure reducing road casualties falls under the same bracket – and they build on the 70% reduction in KSIs reported by Mr Shapps during lockdown.
Everyone who works in road safety knows the number of UK road deaths has flatlined over the last decade – with a recent report by the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC) showing they have risen by 1.1% between 2010 and 2019.
When asked by the Transport Committee how the Government would look to make progress, Mr Shapps spoke about the long term importance of using new technologies.
From 2022, all new vehicles sold in Europe will be fitted, as standard, with a range of new safety features including intelligent speed assistance (ISA).
For passenger cars and light commercial vehicles, the legislation also mandates autonomous emergency braking (AEB) – which is already compulsory for lorries and buses – as well as an emergency lane-keeping system.
The DfT has confirmed that the package of measures will apply in the UK, despite Brexit.
More immediately, he referenced efforts to tackle speeding, which as mentioned has risen during the lockdown period.