Road Safety Information

Road Safety During COVID-19

Last Updated on October 12, 2021

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.

Prevalence:

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.

https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/813053

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

Countermeasures:

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

COVID-19 Street Rebalancing Guide

Photo credit: Federation of Canadian Municipalities (https://data.fcm.ca/documents/COVID-19/COVID-19-Street-Rebalancing-Guide-EN.pdf)

Impacts of COVID-19 FAQs:

How is COVID 19 affecting road transportation and road safety?
Due to physical distancing rules intended to stop the spread of the virus, fewer people drive or take public transit to work, social or recreational reasons and many people are working from home and may continue to do for some time. Although there are no data yet for the impact on travel, collisions, and casualties in Canada, there have been reports in the media that there is more speeding, racing, and stunt driving, possibly facilitated by lower traffic volumes.
What has been the impact of the lower traffic volume during COVID-19 on collisions?
It seems to depend on the location. For example, during March and April 2020 in California, travel was down, as were fatalities and serious injuries. However, in North Carolina, while travel was down, as were fatalities, serious injuries were up somewhat. There was some indication that speeds were up in fatal and serious injury collisions.
Back to Road Safety Information