What happened to road casualties during the COVID-19 Lockdown 1.0?

Organisation: Agilysis
Date of publication: March 2021
Date uploaded: 24 March 2021

The spring of 2020 saw an unprecedented and sudden change in the way we used the road network with average weekday traffic dropping by up to 65% in the early weeks of the first lockdown.

Subsequent restrictions have not led to as sharp a fall in motorists on the roads but current levels are still 30% down on pre-pandemic norms. At the same time as we saw falls in motorised traffic, the number of people choosing to cycle increased significantly, and although pedestrian numbers dropped in deserted town centres, many took the opportunity to find different ways of moving around.

The impact on road casualties has not been assessed at a national level until now. Following the release of record-level collision and casualty data by the DfT, it has now been possible to look at what changes happened between March and June 2020, compared to the same period in the three preceding years. 

In the areas analysed there was a 48% fall in all reported casualties, with those killed or seriously injured reduced by 37%. Further analysis of the detailed information spotlighted significant difference between males and females, road classes, times of day, casualty ages, and vehicle types.

Reductions were greater for females than males which indicates that fewer women were using the roads during lockdown, possibly as they were more likely to remain at home for reasons of home schooling.  Reductions by age group were greatest for children and those over the age of 75, most likely reflecting the closure of schools and instructions to shield for those over the age of 70.

The drop in KSI casualties for those in the 16-24 age group was more significant than for other age groups. Time of day analysis showed a more significant drop in casualties during the morning peak period (6am – 9am) with less reduction in the inter-peak periods. No significant changes were observed by day of week.

Reductions were greater on motorways than other road classes, and this was also seen when analysing roads by speed limit. The major outlier in the analysis was a much lower drop in casualties in 20mph limits. This could reflect two things; the increasing length of 20mph limits in 2020 compared to the previous period; lower reductions in traffic and increased active travel in residential areas where 20mph limits are more common.

Reductions by transport mode largely reflect the types of vehicles being used on the roads in this period. Bus casualties dropped most significantly, followed by car users. Goods vehicle casualties dropped by only 40% compared to the all casualty average of 48%. Motorcycle casualties also didn’t drop as significantly and a more detailed casualty rate analysis would be required to understand why this was the case. Motorcycle casualties are influenced by good weather conditions, which were in place for much of the analysis period. 

Pedestrian casualties did reduce significantly which is likely to be a combination of reduced pedestrian movements, as well as few vehicles. Cyclist casualties dropped the least but this should be put against a backdrop of an increased amount of cycling. When this is taken into account it shows that cycling became significantly safer during the analysis period.

The full analysis along with supporting data has been published by Agilysis using the MAST Online database.