The COVID-19 lockdown this year resulted in a 30% reduction in road use, but did not proportionally reduce road fatalities, according to new research from the Australia Road Research Board (ARRB). While COVID-19 has had a positive impact on road fatalities in some areas, such as the last quarter in Victoria, other statistics do not reflect the drop in fatalities that was expected with reduced traffic.
The latest statistics from the July-September 2020 quarter show that in the last 12 months to September 2020, compared to the previous 12 months, fatalities involving all heavy trucks declined by 9.5%, articulated trucks by 4%, and rigid heavy trucks by 14.6%.
During Victoria’s strict lockdown over the July-September 2020 quarter fatalities involving articulated trucks were zero. Other states, however, have not experienced a reduction in fatalities involving heavy vehicles. Fatalities involving articulated trucks has actually increased in the last two quarters in NSW. QLD has not had a significant move in fatalities involving heavy vehicles but did see a concerning increase in road deaths generally, thought to be caused by the QLD Police ceasing to conduct random breath tests.
ARRB Chief Executive Officer Michael Caltabiano said the research showed that lower traffic volumes alone do not lead to improved road safety outcomes. While we believe this reduction in deaths and crashes does have some relation to COVID road conditions, such as less traffic in urban areas where heavy rigids mostly run, we call on the Office of Road Safety to investigate the causality of heavy vehicle fatalities where numbers were significantly reduced, such as in VIC, or not reduced significantly such as in NSW.
NatRoad’s view is that the missing pieces in providing road safety solutions is causality. We just do not know enough about why the fatalities occur in the patterns reported and resources of government must urgently be allocated to this subject. The Productivity Commission recommendation that the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) conduct research and investigate incidents involving heavy vehicles should be implemented with all speed.