Why decreasing traffic volumes are leading to an increase in safety concerns

The implications of physical distancing caused by COVID-19 are surfacing every day. While most of these trends have been expressly negative, a silver lining in our industry is that, across North America, vehicle collisions have decreased anywhere from 30 to 75%. Not only does this translate to safer roads, but there’s an economic value associated with it. For example, the LA Times recently published an article citing that the reduction in crashes has led to 40 million dollars of taxpayer savings daily.  

While there may be fewer collisions, less congested roads may be encouraging higher levels of non-compliance, making crashes a lot worse. Reports from the City of Toronto show that speeding tickets issued last month increased by 30% and cases of stunt driving skyrocketed by 200%.

Quick traffic facts during the COVID-19 pandemic 

Here are some quick facts about the state of traffic networks during the COVID-19 pandemic: 

  • Speeding tickets in Toronto, Canada are up 30% and cases of stunt driving are up 200% 
  • The number of car crashes across the United States has decreased anywhere from 30 to 75% depending on the state
  • Crashes have decreased by 60% in Los Angeles, California, saving taxpayers $1billion to $40million/day 
  • Crashes have decreased by 75% in Phoenix, Arizona 
  • There has been an increase in non-compliant behavior among all road users 

Analyzing compliance during the COVID-19 pandemic

Looking at our own internal data sources, in aggregate, we’ve seen an increase in the number of red-light runners and pedestrians crossing against the phase across all our deployments; further corroborating dangerous road user behavior is on the rise. 

Speeding, red-light running, and pedestrian non-compliance are all surrogate indicators of potential risk as illustrated by the Safety Pyramid. Though the volume of vehicles and pedestrians has decreased on our roads, there is a strong relationship between this increase in non-compliance and level of risk; the more potential conflicts you have, the more severe crashes and fatalities you see. 

 

 

The Safety Pyramid shows the relationship between serious crashes, minor crashes, and near misses, and proposes that if the number of minor crashes is reduced then there will be a corresponding fall in the number of serious crashes.

 

Sadly, preliminary data coming out of various agencies are already supporting this hypothesis. For example, in  Minnesota, traffic fatalities in the past month have doubled compared to the same month last year. Other places like New York and Massachusetts are reporting disproportionate changes between the drop in traffic volume and the number of injuries caused by traffic crashes. 

Using traffic data to develop proper countermeasures

Without street-level data, it’s difficult for authorities to understand why they are not seeing KSI numbers fall in proportion to vehicle volumes. What’s needed is continuous, multimodal data at the intersection to see where risks are emerging, and how to best address those risks. 

While enforcement will continue to have its place in curbing non-compliant behavior, other, more non-invasive approaches, like temporary road diets, could be considered especially during this global pandemic. Since current traffic volumes are significantly lower than the capacity of roads, a road diet (reduction in the number of lanes open for use) could be an effective countermeasure to impose caution on road users. The US Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has found that reducing the number of lanes or reconfiguring the roadway through a road diet can calm traffic and reduce crashes by 19 to 47%

With accurate multimodal data to improve both the safety and efficiency of their traffic networks, traffic teams can gather valuable insight into vehicle and pedestrian compliance. Solutions like the recently launched Safety Analytics for Miovision TrafficLink offer compliance metrics that enable traffic teams to:  

  • Identify high-risk areas within their network
  • Deploy targeted countermeasures
  • Assess the impact of countermeasures on citizen safety

Continuously improving safety efforts 

Delivering safer streets for all road users is never “one and done”. With reliable data and the right tools, traffic teams can continuously improve safety on their roadways, adjusting countermeasures as needed and identifying new areas with potential safety issues. 

When it comes to safety, adapting to the changes within your network becomes an important factor that drives successful safety programs. The road safety challenges that have surfaced during the COVID-19 pandemic are just some examples of how changes within the network can have a drastic impact on the approach needed to manage the network and implement countermeasures to improve safety. 

The ongoing process of improving safety within traffic networks also requires teams to recognize that vehicles are not the only road users. That’s why tools like TrafficLink Safety Analytics depend on data for both vehicles and pedestrians. Other road users, such as cyclists and e-Scooter riders, also have a significant impact on traffic networks and should also be taken into consideration when planning, managing, and monitoring networks. Multimodal data gives traffic teams the complete picture of their network they need to effectively address safety issues and continuously improve their safety programs. 

To learn more about TrafficLink Safety Analytics, view our Making Every Road User Count webinar.