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May 20, 2021 2:15 PM, EDT

Roads Busy Again After Pandemic Bring Risk, Experts Say

RoadAfter lighter traffic at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, cars are returning to the roads. (fstop123/Getty Images)

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The nationwide lockdowns brought on by the pandemic cleared the roads of many passenger vehicles and helped truckers keep goods moving. However, as passenger cars gradually return, industry experts are considering how those pandemic-era roads affected safety and how drivers will respond once they start getting crowded again.

“What we’re observing is that as the rest of us get back on those roads, we’ve forgotten how to share the road,” said Colin Sutherland, executive vice president of sales and marketing at vehicle tracking service Geotab. “We see cars pulling in directly in front of heavy-duty trucks on the highway, forgetting that heavy-duty trucks need more room for braking than the car does.”

Geotab during the United Nations’ sixth Global Road Safety Week — held May 17-23 — partnered with Together for Safer Roads in a campaign to improve safety and drive down accident statistics. They also challenged commercial fleets worldwide to work toward reducing speed-related incidents.

Sutherland

Sutherland

Sutherland noted the 100 days after Memorial Day are crucial for raising drivers’ safety awareness, as summertime road trips tend to increase the number of highway crashes. The company is already seeing an uptick as passenger vehicles return to the roads.

“That’s being borne out in the increase in accidents that are happening on the road today,” he said. “An increase over pre-COVID, which is very scary.”

The National Safety Council estimated motor vehicle deaths nationwide in 2020 were the highest in 13 years. Its report found as many as 42,060 people are estimated to have died in crashes, marking an 8% increase over 2019. There are no figures on how many of those may have involved commercial trucks. The report also found total miles driven by all motor vehicles dropped 13% from the prior year.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration will provide a clearer picture of 2020 road safety when it releases its annual truck and bus accident report later this year. Meantime, the Safety Management Council of American Trucking Associations is taking a look at the shift in traffic patterns brought on by the pandemic.

“We were starting a benchmarking group and will hopefully have this data more readily available,” Jacob Pierce, the group’s executive director, told Transport Topics. “There are less cars on the road so you’d figure that there would be less accidents. However, less cars on the road equals probably more passenger vehicles driving riskier, driving faster, really not paying attention.”

“The last year had a surprising amount of activity — from my perspective — than would have been expected,” Doug Marcello, chief legal officer at the trucking data analysis service Bluewire, told TT. “Anecdotally I had more accidents that we were engaged to deal with immediately over the first month of the pandemic than I did most other months. And all of them were situations where four-wheelers had thrown caution to the wind and ended up striking the truck in some way.”

Going forward, attorney Angela Savino said it will be interesting to see how society’s emergence from the pandemic will affect safety when compared with COVID-era roads.

“It could go either way,” said Savino, lead attorney at the business law firm Perez Morris. “There certainly was more trucking activity. So that alone, you might think there was an uptick. But it was a whole different set of circumstances. Just the congestion on the road was different.”

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