Being careful behind the wheel is always paramount, but during the current global health crisis, road safety experts say it’s more essential than ever. Buckling-up, observing speed limits, putting down the cell phone and not driving while under the influence are among the behaviors that can help save the lives of drivers and their passengers and reduce the impact of COVID-19.
“Hospitals and emergency services cannot manage road crash victims as they struggle to cope with the pandemic and governments are working hard to contain the virus,” Lotte Brondum executive director of the Global Alliance of NGOs for Road Safety, wrote in the group’s monthly newsletter, distributed on Friday.
The Global Alliance is a nonprofit that represents more than 240 member non governmental organizations (NGOs) working in road safety from more than 90 countries. Its members and other global and national safety groups are urging the public to be extra cautious during the Coronavirus pandemic, as limiting crashes that result in hospitalizations can free up medical staff, supplies and beds in intensive care units and improve ambulance response time.
Medical systems are overwhelmed and being stretched beyond capacity in many countries, including the United States.
“While global travel has come to a halt, travel within local communities continues and, in some cases, is expected to increase,” Rochelle Sobel, founder and president, and Cathy Silberman, executive director the Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT), said in a statement. ASIRT is a Global Alliance member based in Washington, D.C. “If you are driving, please be vigilant about checking surroundings and observing speed limits. Pedestrians and cyclists also have a responsibility to navigate the roads safely and increase visibility by using light, bright or reflective gear. And for everyone, please focus on the road and avoid distractions and cell phones.”
The pandemic may also mean that as governments focus their attention on managing the pandemic in their countries, other priorities may be scaled back. This is likely to mean delays and cancellation of planned legislation and infrastructure implementations in the short-term, and less capacity for awareness and education campaigns, as well as police enforcement.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is postponing its scheduled annual traffic safety and enforcement campaigns, including Heat Stroke Awareness, Click It or Ticket, and Distracted Driving.
“NHTSA recognizes that States and our law enforcement and first responder partners are working tirelessly to respond to the current public health emergency,” and may have to re-prioritize other actions, the federal agency said.
Distracted Driving Awareness Month, observed each April to raise awareness of the dangers of driver distraction, has officially been suspended. “We are in unprecedented times” Lorraine M. Martin, president and chief executive of the National Safety Council, said in a statement. The nonprofit advocacy group aims to reschedule the initiative for a later date this year.
The Global Alliance stressed that while work and travel restrictions in many countries may mean that overall it is likely that less journeys are being made and as a result less traffic crashes occur, if people do travel and choose to use private cars instead of public transport, crash rates could increase.
“The strongest road safety message we can offer at this time is to follow your government’s advice, stay at home, and if you need to go out, walk, drive, or ride carefully: use a seat belt or helmet, reduce your speed, don’t drink and drive, and stay off your mobile phone,” Brondum added. “Be responsible for your own sake and the sake of everyone.”