News & Events

January 2021

Road Safety in a COVID World

As we welcome in 2021, it seems a good time to reflect on the challenges and adaptations we were forced to make in the industry during 2020 from a road safety perspective.

Last year we saw an exponential increase in sustainable travel provision by means of temporary and more permanent cycle and walking infrastructure. There has been a spotlight on Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) and tactical urbanism to allow social distancing, but as we see streetscapes changing, it is important that road safety remains paramount.

Jean Todt former Ferrari CEO and F1 Chief who is also the UN SG´s Special Envoy for Road Safety recently said: “The Road Safety community has been advocating for a bigger shift to active modes of mobility over the past decades for many reasons, including addressing climate change, traffic congestion, noise pollution, and physical inactivity – many reflected in the UN Sustainable Development Goals.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been urging Brits to consider hopping on the saddle when they begin a phased return to work and polling reveals that 57% of his compatriots plan to reduce their public transport usage due to fear of illness.

This modal shift, and the speed at which it’s changing, places an even greater emphasis on road safety and the need for road safety audits and risk assessments. As we have seen over the last year, we can be flexible enough to manage with new working environments and the new type of projects we’re seeing with regards to sustainable travel and infrastructure.

The key component of the road safety audit process is a comprehensive site visit. Fortunately, due to quick action from governing agencies such as Highways England and the Society of Road Safety Auditors (SoRSA), flexible approaches ensured that these site activities could continue, allowing the continuous delivery of road safety projects.

Despite the critical need to design for active travel and contribute positively to the climate emergency, pre-pandemic we couldn’t have predicted these almost immediate modal shifts we are seeing in all major cities and beyond. We think that the pandemic probably escalated these physical and mindset changes by close to a decade. These installations, and the speed at which they have been implemented, have brought new challenges in terms of safety assessment and public scrutiny. However, they will no doubt drive the much-needed changes in highway and placemaking design to adapt to the rapidly changing lifestyle balance.

During the first quarter of 2020 the world abruptly changed, and the news was flooded with stories of hope that the (albeit catastrophic) pandemic could be the inadvertent catalyst we need to combat climate change.

However, the effect of COVID on road safety hasn’t been quite so positive in the media. Taking the first month of lockdown as an example, some of the alarming statistics are listed below.

  • Lincolnshire saw the number of speeding offences double despite traffic being down by two-thirds.
  • Greater Manchester Police saw an increase of 57% of vehicles travelling above the speed limit, with more than 6,200 drivers caught.
  • London saw eight road deaths.
  • A driver was clocked doing 132 mph on a Yorkshire A-road.

There is also a lot of anecdotal evidence including a tiny minority using quiet roads as racetracks and an increase in driving under the influence. For example, research undertaken by the RAC revealed that 44% of adults it surveyed had witnessed a greater degree of drivers speeding post-lockdown, with 30 mph limits being the most abused. This is very concerning when we know that historically 60 per cent of all road accidents occur in these zones.

It is our mission as a company to set new standards in mobility to enhance a project and society as a whole, while keeping safety at the forefront. We want to continue to be known for creating healthy, sustainable and resilient places, designed for people. So, as we enter a new decade, we are excited and enthused to be a part of the delivery of these brave new spaces.