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THE IMPACT OF THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC ON ROAD SAFETY
(Oct. 26, 2020) — COVID-19 has changed how the world works, and travel is not exempted. In this blog post, we assess the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on people’s behavior in going out and commuting, as well as the government’s actions in terms of road safety.
The coronavirus pandemic has affected almost all parts of the world. COVID-19 brought significant changes to important aspects of people’s lives. Nothing is exempt, not even travelling and road safety.
In this article, we will discuss and further elaborate on the challenges brought by the COVID-19 in implementing road safety policies and strategies.
What is the impact of COVID-19 on mobility and safety?
For us to better understand the “road bumps” that COVID-19 creates in the implementation of road safety policies and strategies, let us dig deeper into how it affects mobility and safety.
Fewer people are going out
Most countries affected by the coronavirus pandemic imposed lockdowns, putting work and travel restrictions in place. These strict directives prevent people from going out unless they have important transactions such as shopping for their necessities or going to the doctor for a checkup. As a result, there are fewer travels. Not as many people are seen on the streets compared to before the pandemic. This holds true in Japan’s 39 prefectures even if the state of emergency has already been lifted. On the other hand, more than 50% of Americans feel uncomfortable about going out despite the curve being flattened.
Fewer people going out might be seen as a good thing for road safety. Theoretically, it means that there will also be fewer road accidents. This was true in the height of the pandemic, based on news reports back in May. In fact, the total volume of traffic decreased by 16% on U.S. roads with accidents initially decreasing as well. But by the end of the second quarter, fatality rates increased by 30% as quarantine boredom has increased riskier behavior among the people who do go out. We’ll get back to this later.
Fewer people are commuting
There are two reasons fewer people commuted during the onslaught of the coronavirus pandemic. The first reason is that all transit services were required to cease operations either partially or completely. On the other hand, people avoided taking public transportation because they were afraid of getting infected.
Before the lockdowns, mass transit was considered as a safer mode of transportation because it contributed less to pollution and congestion. But now that there is an infectious virus, people have heightened fears about mass transit because they have to be in close contact with strangers for a long time. For this reason, public transit use is associated with higher coronavirus infections and deaths.
The pandemic has killed public commuting. Americans traveled roughly 37 billion fewer miles this June 2020 compared to 2019. Most have opted to use private vehicles, but this could raise crash and pollution rates. Others cannot afford to buy a new car in the midst of the pandemic. There are medical staffs and many low-paid workers who still need to go to work. So if public transportation is not a safe option nowadays, then which mode of transportation people can rely on?
The director of the China Sustainable Cities Program at the World Resources Institute suggested that those who commute for medium to short distances should use bicycles instead. Given this, the government and activists are making campaigns that promote using bicycles and walking. Organizations such as Transformative Urban Mobility Initiative (TUMI) have mobilized to further strengthen this movement and increase the sustainability of their cities. With the rise of cycling, vulnerable and essential groups are encouraged to consult a bicycle accident lawyer so that their rights are protected if they ever get into accidents.
Road safety implementation, policy, and enforcement are on pause
The priorities of the government have also shifted since the pandemic started. Some projects have to be halted to make way for policies that control and fight off COVID-19. Legislation, short-term implementations and infrastructure developments that have already been planned out are delayed or canceled because the government needs to give undivided attention in addressing the pandemic.
In line with this, implementations and enforcement of road safety policies are also on pause. Many countries such as the United States and some parts of Europe have relaxed the regulations on driver hours for truck drivers who are carrying medical supplies and consumer goods while the COVID-19 pandemic is ongoing. Cities have also seen a decrease in the workforce and enforcement capacities of their police. The police have allocated fewer personnel on some services, one of which is the breath testing of drivers in major roads. This is to avoid exposing the police force to the virus.
With campaigns on road safety no longer a top priority, safety activists have voiced out on how risky these actions are. In fact, we have seen the lack of road safety messaging during the pandemic as a top contributor to the 30% increase in fatality rates for road accidents mentioned earlier.
Traveling in the new normal
The pandemic has forced us to adapt to the new normal. For us to cope, many aspects of our day-to-day activities have changed as we re-envision our lives. The government must also do the same regarding transportation and road safety to protect the public and improve quality of life. Hopefully, better measures will be put in place soon.