COVID lockdowns and empty roads lead to more risky driver behaviour and possibly higher rates of crashes rather than less according to a new safety report.
According to the Monash University research dangerous practices such as drink driving occurred at five times the level as before the pandemic resulting in no proportionate drop in crashes and trauma.
Monash University Accident Research Centre examined the impact of the Victorian pandemic restrictions of 2020 and 2021 on road trauma outcomes and found total travel in Melbourne decreased between 30 to 60 per cent depending on the stage of pandemic restrictions.
But excessive speeding, and drink- and drug-driving likely contributed to higher levels of road trauma than would be calculated with lower traffic volumes.
The Victorian road toll dropped to 211 deaths in 2020 and 234 in 2021 both below the 10 year average ( 2023 is already 264- the worst in a decade) but the research raises the question that without the risky behaviour it could have been even lower.
According to the research, despite a decrease in random breath testing, the positive detection rate for illegal blood alcohol concentration increased to five-times the pre-pandemic rate at the peak of the first lockdown and remained high throughout 2020.
The rate of illicit drug detection by random drug tests more than doubled compared to pre-pandemic levels.
The data also shows the rate of speeding at intersections was up by 50 per cent from 2019, and the rate of speeding caught by fixed cameras on highways increased by around 15 per cent during the restriction periods.
Mobile speed camera data showed increased risk of breaking the limits in all speed zones, including 44 per cent in speed zones under 50 km/h, 85 per cent in speed zones between 60-70 km/h, 68 per cent in speed zones of 80-90 km/h and 64 per cent in speed zones of 100-110 km/h.
Lead author Dr Angelo D’Elia says the regular calculation and monitoring of intermediate outcome measures using Victoria’s road safety program data could enable a better understanding of risk on the road network and provide leading indicators of road trauma.
“The monitoring of such measures would provide the ability to more proactively respond to emerging road safety issues,” Dr D’Elia said.
Trucks were also guilty of risky behaviour the rate of infringing per vehicle increased by over 100 per cent, both on highways and at intersections at certain times.
The report noted that when it cam to enforcement reduced breath testing during COVID meant an opportunity for fewer road traumas may have been missed but increased speed detection may prevented saved lives and crashes.
“These findings emphasise the importance of maintaining enforcement activities and countermeasure delivery, especially during major shocks such as the COVID-19 pandemic, if road safety targets are to be met.
The research combined a wide range of data from Victoria’s road safety partners including road network traffic data and road infrastructure investment data from the Victorian Department of Transport and Planning, fixed- and mobile- speed camera data from the Department of Justice and Community Safety, roadside alcohol and drug testing data from Victoria Police, and Victorian hospital admission and emergency presentation data from the Department of Health.
Read the report here