Covid-19 and its impact on casualty statistics

12.03 | 29 June 2020 | | 2 comments

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.



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    I agree with Jeremy’s comments about analysis. Also his phrase “choices people make when they are off the leash” is spot-on. I’m absolutely convinced that many road users (all modes) lack self restraint and that that fact is frequently under estimated and under valued when decisions are made.
    However as a touring caravanner and biker who rides for the fun of it, I will have to respectfully disagree with Jeremy’s last paragraph.

    Pat, Wales
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    Perhaps the most interesting question raised here is why only 70%? Clearly there is a relationship between volume / miles travelled / exposure and injuries, but why so close to a near match?

    With such significant reductions in flow one might reasonably have expected to see even greater reductions in injuries. So what happened? The inverse relationship between flow and speed choice has been well tracked – given the opportunity of both open roads and reduced enforcement (perceived or actual) people have driven faster. Much faster.

    That will be part of the mix but the failure to reduce injuries also raises questions about vehicle interplay; the proportion of single vehicle RTCs and the role of highway infrastructure; the involvement of non-motorised modes in the collision; vehicle types and the uses to which those vehicles were being put – and so much more.

    There’ll be an opportunity to learn a lot from the last few months – so more much in fact than simply observing that injuries reduce when fewer journeys are made. I’m looking forward to seeing some serious analytical time devoted to this and, consequently, helping us to understand more about the choices people make when they are off the leash and how well we are set up to deal with it.

    Personally I find myself in the camp of wanting to see fewer vehicles owned and fewer miles driven in our future – so understanding why people do what they do when there’s more open road and how to mitigate for that is going to be kind of important., Exeter
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