COVID19: Why is it important for road safety?

Lecturer in Policing, Dr Leanne Savigar-Shaw has written a post about the concerns around the manner of driving during lockdown and how the change in lifestyle may impact road safety moving forward.

There have been recent concerns around the manner of driving during lockdown, particularly in relation to speeding, with the MET police lead for road safety highlighting the potential implications that could have on the NHS in already pressing times. Having recently hosted a seminar around driver distraction, I have been left wondering how this change in lifestyle many of us have experienced, and the changes in road user behaviour reported, may impact upon our road safety moving forward.

Our relationship to the roads context has changed greatly during the period of COVID-concern and lockdown. We are using vehicles less, but encouraged to walk to aid our mental health. Our relationships to people and work have also changed; conversations with family have taken place using mobile phones and other technologies, work has been conducted via laptops and computers. Indeed, my own work has all taken place using a laptop as lectures have been delivered remotely and meetings have taken place online. This may have long-term benefits – work that can be conducted remotely or communication that can take place online may continue to do so in some respect.

At some point, however, we will be released from ‘lockdown’, many people will recommence travelling to and from a place of work, travelling to visit relatives, and travelling for holidays throughout the UK. The number of vehicles on UK roads will again increase. Will the increases in speeding that we have recently observed continue? People who haven’t driven a vehicle for a significant period of time may be returning to the roads. Their confidence may be reduced, with the potential to influence how they drive on the roads. Those who have only driven short journeys may again be taking long journeys. Will their concentration be hindered? Are they at greater risk of becoming tired or drowsy while driving?

Relating specifically to the issue of driver distraction, those who have become increasingly accustomed to the use of technology, and have a new routine for communication via video call, may believe that they have to continue that routine alongside the task of driving. Rather than being more focused on the task of driving in a time where it is likely necessary, are drivers going to be more distracted? Will those drivers who have been in contact with colleagues at any point of the day via email or video conference during lockdown feel inclined to answer a communication from those same individuals, even when they are in their vehicles?

There are lots of questions for police forces and other organisations to consider in relation to their roads policing strategy and to ensure that individuals remain safe on the roads in the coming weeks and months as we continue through this strange period of time.

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