Here’s a test that it is not fewer vehicle drivers on the road but lower speed that is the determining factor in crashes and fatalities. The past pandemic year has drilled that home.
There have been some laudable changes during the pandemic in that there were notable decreases in auto emissions, and many Canadian municipalities including Winnipeg, Calgary and Vancouver adopted programs to encourage walking and rolling on streets that would normally be dedicated to vehicular traffic.
It would have made sense that fewer vehicle drivers on the road would statistically reduce traffic fatalities because, you know, not as many drivers. But that’s not the case.
The American National Safety Council reports that over 42,000 people died in traffic fatalities last year, even though there was a 13 percent decrease in miles travelled. Traffic deaths increased by 8 percent in one year, increasing the “rate of death on roads by 24 percent year over year, the sharpest spike measured since 1924.”
Why the increase in fatalities? Speed.
Research done by Traffic Analyses firm INRIX shows that last year vehicle miles travelled dropped 46 percent by early April 2020. But as the number of vehicles dropped, vehicular speeds increased. The vehicular speed increases resulted in a 31 percent increase in traffic fatalities from April to June 2020 in the United States.
Data shows that the cities that previously had the most traffic pre-pandemic saw vehicular speeds increase by 35 percent, with “time savings” of 40 percent due to the lack of congestion and speeding.
Traffic fatalities rose even though traffic volumes decreased. Faster driving has been proven by statistics and data to increase the likelihood of fatalities.
Laura Bliss in Bloomberg quotes Offer Grembek, the co-director of the Safe Transportation Research and Education Center at University of California Berkeley. He identifies speed as the major factor in fatality increase, as well as the popularity of pickup trucks and SUV’s (sports utility vehicles) and the increased frequency of delivery trucks.
“The divergence between total collisions and fatalities also highlights a blind spot in traffic safety engineering. Historically the thinking is that a crash is a crash, and if we can reduce total crashes, we’ll reduce the fatalities. Now we have clear evidence that that’s not the case. That demonstrates that we need to focus on eliminating the types of crashes that result in fatal and severe injuries.”
The YouTube video below shows the speed of vehicles being clocked in the Seattle area during the pandemic.
One more reason to look at 30 km/h as the default speed limit in cities, and slowing speeds on highways. This has already been done in the Netherlands where highway speeds have been reduced to lower carbon emissions and also to save lives.