COVID-19: Huge drop in traffic in Europe, but impact on road deaths unclear

  • April 7, 2020

Unprecedented reductions in traffic volumes have been reported across Europe since confinement measures associated with the COVID-19 pandemic took effect.  Early reports based on limited data show that road deaths have not been reduced to the same degree, and, in some areas, have stayed the same or risen.  It is too early to draw firm conclusions.

Data analysis by Tom Tom, of a number of major European cities has shown traffic volumes reduced by between 70 and 85% in countries where confinement measures are in effect.  Analysis of UK motorway traffic by TRL also showed a drop of up to 75%.

The impact of confinement on road death and injury is less clear because few countries have reported official data since the pandemic took hold.

The Netherlands reported a 50% reduction in collisions early in the confinement period – but no information on injury severity.

Concerns were raised in Ireland when road deaths spiked over a week in the second half of March after confinement measures were put in place.  But it will take time to understand the full impact of the measures on road safety.

The Australian state of Victoria has reported that deaths have not declined despite the reduced traffic.

However, Italy, which imposed very strict measures on mobility, and was also one of the first countries to introduce a lock-down, reported police data showing reductions in road deaths of around 70%.

France has reported a smaller drop in road deaths, of 40% in March compared to the same month last year.  Analysis by the MAPFRE Foundation showed a 47% reduction in Spain over a similar period.

More data and analysis will be needed before a clearer picture emerges.

One widely reported issue is that of drivers taking advantage of emptier roads, possibly resulting in a higher proportion than normal of speeding, sometimes to a very excessive degree.

ETSC has seen ad-hoc media reports of excessive levels of speeding in Belgium, France, the UK, and the United States.  Again, robust data is lacking though Denmark has published official data showing a 10 percentage point increase in the proportion of drivers speeding.

TRL in the UK has warned of the dangers of speeding becoming more normalised as a possible result of recent media reporting focussed on isolated events that might not represent a full picture of the real situation on the roads.