A new study analysing traffic speeds during lockdown reveals a ‘startling difference’ in speeds on roads when the volume of traffic falls.
The research project, undertaken by Agilysis, brings together data from several local authorities in rural and urban settings and looks at how traffic levels changed post-lockdown, and the impact on drivers’ speed choice.
The report demonstrates that traffic flows in the post-lockdown period reduced by between 58-64% – with the biggest declines recorded on roads with speed limits above 50mph.
When transformed for flow, a drop of 10,000 vehicles per day on a single stretch of 60mph road was matched by an increased average speed of 2.2mph.
High-end speeding was also found to be a problem on 60mph roads, with vast increases in the proportion of drivers travelling more than 15mph above the limit.
This effect was less pronounced on the rest of the road network including motorways and urban, low-speed roads.
Agilysis says the results demonstrate the importance of speed enforcement, especially at times when more people are walking and cycling.
Richard Owen, the lead author, said: “When we initially reviewed the data in early April there was a clear increase in vehicle speeds during lockdown that was strongly associated with reduced traffic volumes.
“This comprehensive study has now demonstrated that offending behaviour has skyrocketed, especially on rural roads, where previously compliance with the limit has been good.”
Fewer injuries, but more serious in nature
The Agilysis report concludes there isn’t enough evidence available yet to indicate whether the changes in speeds, especially on rural roads, resulted in more road deaths and serious injuries.
However, DfT figures indicate that casualties have largely dropped in line with reducing traffic levels.
Evidence from the Safer Essex Roads Partnership (SERP) indicates that while the large drop in traffic has resulted in fewer collisions overall, the higher speeds meant that injuries suffered by those who did have collisions were more serious.
There was a 54% drop in the number of slight-injury collisions – but only a 43% drop in collisions that resulted in death or serious injury. There was also a 35% increase in the proportion of collisions where inappropriate speed was recorded as a contributing factor.
SERP has also noted an increase in the number of people cycling in Essex – and consequently there has been a small increase in the number of cyclist casualties.
For obvious reasons, in the event of a collision with another vehicle, cyclists are more likely than car occupants to suffer a serious or fatal injury. This has also contributed to the increase in the average severity of recorded injuries.
Matt Hine, Road Crime Manager, Essex Police said: “The evidence here demonstrates that the temptation to drive faster on less congested roads has caused unnecessary suffering and put an avoidable strain on the NHS.
“It highlights the ongoing importance for all road users to follow the Highway Code, control their speed, pay full attention at all times and leave substantial margins for error.”