The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on road safety

As we all know far, 2020 was the year many governments introduced the “stay-at-home” policies as a reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic. This created empty streets and shorter journeys.

The International Road Safety Data and Analysis Group (IRTAD) evaluated the statistics of the participating countries (32) and discovered that the overall traffic volumes were 12.2% lower in 2020 than the average for 2010-19. Less traffic also meant less traffic accidents and a fall of 8.6% in the number of road deaths, with the most substantial reductions between March and May 2020.

Due to the “stay-at-home” policies, all transport modes experienced a decrease in fatalities. The pandemic motivated more people to cycle from A to B, and therefore the fatalities among cyclists only dripped 6.4%, much less than for other road users. Young people under 17 and the elderly aged 75+ witnessed the most significant reductions of road deaths in 2020, with almost a quarter fewer fatalities.

Nevertheless, the decrease in numbers should also be looked at with a critical eye, and the exposure of road users to traffic risks, as captured by kilometers driven or walked, should be taken into account. As a result, the fall in number of road deaths in 2020 due to the mobility restrictions did not happen at the anticipated scale. Apart from that, not all participating countries experienced the same effect. The risk of being killed in a crash in 2020 was 17% lower in Sweden than for the 2017-19 average, but 12% higher than in the Netherlands.

The pandemic did not only change the traffic numbers, but also many personal factors. COVID-19 caused more stress and anxiety, more spare time, increased consumption of alcohol and drugs, and potentially greater opportunities for speeding on empty roads. All elements that can have a potential impact on road safety.

Therefore, it is crucial that we keep developing and promoting good practices to make our roads safer.

Read the full report