The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on road safety in Canada and around the world is not yet clear. However, due to physical distancing rules intended to stop the spread of the virus, fewer people drive for work, social or recreational reasons and many people are working from home and may continue to do so for a long time.
One might expect that with less travel on the roads, there would be fewer collisions and as a result, fewer casualties. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, traffic fatalities in the United States increased by 4.6 percent during the first nine months of 2020 compared to the same months in 2019. The fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled for the same months was up 23 percent from 2019 to 2020.
At this point, it is not clear why these increases have occurred. However, there is some evidence that certain types of risky driving may be on the rise during the pandemic. For example, there are numerous Canadian media reports that speeding, road racing, and stunt driving have increased, and more police charges are being laid for these offences. These driving behaviours may be related to the sparse traffic on the roads.
There is also some evidence that alcohol and drug consumption has been increasing during the pandemic. This may result in greater impaired driving activity and possibly more collisions. During the pandemic, people are staying in touch with family and friends through the use of their mobile phones. However, if they do this while driving, driver distraction may occur. Given the concerns regarding proximity to others, the use of public transit has declined considerably, and people are driving, walking, or bicycling instead. Long-haul truck drivers are still operating to ensure that the supply chains remain open but there are fewer places for them to eat and rest while on the road. Longer distances between rest areas could exacerbate existing fatigue-related crash risks for these drivers.
For more information regarding the possible effects of COVID-19 on road safety see: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0001457520311908
In light of the pandemic, temporary design guidelines have been developed to better accommodate the increased demand for active transportation modes (e.g., bicycling, walking). They also describe opportunities for safer permanent designs.
The Street Rebalancing Guide endorsed by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (pictured here) can be accessed at: https://fcm.ca/en/resources/covid-19-street-rebalancing-guide