Are our roads safer now?

“We are living through unprecedented times.”

That’s something we’ve all heard many times by now. But no matter how many times it’s said, it remains true.

We are all going out less, seeing people less than we did and making fewer car journeys.

But will this lead to a drop in the number of car accidents on UK roads?

Fall in road deaths

We have already seen a drop in the number of road deaths this year in comparison to previous years.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps announced in the summer that deaths and serious injuries in accidents on our roads have fallen by 70% since lockdown measures were imposed on the country.

That’s a massive drop, but is it sustainable?

Traffic volume

The only reason there were fewer deaths and injuries on the roads during lockdown is because there was a significantly lower volume of cars on them.

This is seen in the Department for Transport’s road use statistics. They show that throughout April, at the height of lockdown, the number of cars on the road was between 27-40% of equivalent days in previous years.

The amount of cars present on our roads has continued to generally be lower than those seen on equivalent days. However, they have risen recently, reaching 85% on 12 October.

With more people back in workplaces – despite the government now advising working from home if possible – and more amenities and facilities open than during the strictest lockdown period, this is perhaps unsurprising.

Bus and train passenger numbers are far lower than those seen on equivalent days in previous years and sales of motorcycles and scooters have risen. Commuters are looking for more private forms of transport to limit their exposure to the virus.

This could lead to more journeys made in cars that would ordinarily be made on public transport. The resulting impact could be a rise in the number of car accidents as traffic levels rise again.

Car safety

Despite the lower number of cars on our roads, there are potentially more unsafe vehicles present on them.

Early in lockdown, the government put in place a suspension of normal MOT rules. Cars could have a six-month extension to their annual checkup as mechanics and garages were forced into temporary closures.

But this meant that a car owner wouldn’t be given the opportunity to discover potentially unsafe faults during the usual MOT. And this could have resulted in unsafe vehicles being driven on our roads.

The six-month suspension is now at an end and cars are beginning to have their MOTs again. However, some vehicles will not be checked until the end of the year, potentially leading to unsafe cars. This puts other drivers at risk.

The future

Whether tighter lockdown measures will continue for the rest of the year remains to be seen. What effect this will have on traffic levels and road accidents is also unknown at this stage.

What is known is that the fewer cars are on the roads, the fewer serious accidents occur. Traffic levels may stay low over the coming months, but as we eventually start to combat Covid, they may rise again.

It’s up to decision makers to set the vision for transport and road safety post-coronavirus.

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