Antonio Avenoso, Executive Director
It is the best of times, it is the worst of times…
Last month I watched with horror, fear and dismay at the reports from Italy, my home country, where deaths from COVID-19 every few days were the equivalent of the country’s annual road deaths. The emergency care system was overwhelmed, there was a terrible shortage of protective equipment and, worst of all, so many families were devastated and unable even to mourn their loss together. The economic costs? Impossible to fathom at this stage. I write this knowing that, across Europe, everyone who reads it faces more or less a similar picture. And it is far from over.
But, as many have pointed out, there are silver linings to this crisis. And they are also evident in our field of road safety.
We have already seen very significant reductions in the number of road deaths as a result of the big drops in traffic volumes due to confinement. When business returns as usual, we can expect those numbers to creep back up again. But what if this moment marks a significant shift away from business as usual? We are already seeing a few cities making rapid adjustments to infrastructure, and speed limits in response to the increases seen in cycling and walking. The city of Brussels is leading the charge – unimaginable a few years ago. As social distancing rules will overload already strained public transport networks pre-Covid, it is hoped that the car will not be seen as the first and safest option and that people will choose to walk and cycle.
Will we really want to go back to clogged city centres, heavy pollution and a dangerous environment for vulnerable road users? Let us hope, and work towards another path out of this crisis.
Despite my cautious optimism for the future, there are still concerns in the present. The lack of traffic may be leading to a higher proportion of speeding drivers. Many EU Member States have been quick to suspend EU rules, from driving and resting times for lorry drivers, to technical inspections for vehicles. Some of these measures may be necessary to deal with the immediate crisis, but they should be time limited, subject to regular review and not lead us to dangers along the road. Vigilance is key.
For ETSC, and our members, the work continues. Many of us are now working from home, including the entire ETSC team. We have hosted several essential meetings online – and are looking at ways of hosting some of our future public events virtually. We are adapting to the situation as it evolves, as are you.
For the time being, stay safe, stay at home and let’s use this time to think about how to build a new, better and safer future for all of us.