Covid-19 lockdown laws drove road deaths down by an average of 36 percent in the European Union in April, according the the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC).
Italy, the first European country struck by the Covid-19 virus and the first to mandate severe lockdowns, saw its road deaths tumble by 84 percent, though road traffic has returned to normal as the Coronavirus threat has declined.
Other countries with tight lockdown laws, like Belgium, Spain, France and Greece, all saw traffic fatalities drop by more than 59 percent.
It wasn’t universal, though, with traffic deaths in The Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark remaining unchanged or slightly higher than the same month in the previous three years.
Sweden, in particular, has been a Covid-19 holdout in Europe, insisting herd immunity would protect its citizenry more effectively than breaking up the transmission of the virus with masks and strict stay-in-place lockdowns.
In Italy, it became illegal to drive a car without self-certification to declare the trip was for essential household, pharmacy or medical visits. Police even checked receipts on return journeys.
“The Covid-19 lockdown has led to a huge disruption in mobility in Europe,” ETSB Road Safety Performance Index project manager Dovilė Adminaitė said.
“There have been positive changes such as a rise in people walking and cycling and the installation of pop-up cycle infrastructure and lower speed limits in dense urban areas.
“However there will be big risks moving forward if people avoid public transport and prioritise car use in urban areas.
“We need to rapidly improve the infrastructure for walking and cycling in urban, but also in rural areas. If governments, cities and towns don’t adapt to this new reality, the saving of lives on the roads during lockdown could soon be reversed.”
While the decrease in fatalities was unprecedented in the EU, the death and crash rate did not shrink at the same rate as the reduction in traffic volume, the ETSB confirmed.
There is patchy data on speeding or enforcement rates during April, but the ETSB suggested that driving faster on near-empty roads may have significantly boosted the severity of crashes.
Denmark’s official data showed a 10-percent increase in speeding during its lockdown, while French speed-camera data showed a 16-percent rise in drivers traveling at least 50 percent faster than the posted speed limit.
The ETSB confirmed that a UK insurer who used telematics to monitor its young policy holders saw a 15-percent rise in speeding alerts, Spain’s fixed speed cameras caught 39 percent more speeders on rural, open roads and 22 percent more Estonian drivers were caught above the limit on rural roads.
Sweden, though, reported no increase in speeding offenses.
The figures are more complex than they first appear, though, with the ETSB indicating the speeding infringements were more likely to have been clocked up by truck and van drivers, rather than motorists.
Spain’s data showed an enormous rise in Heavy Goods Vehicle driver deaths, and it hypothesized that drivers were working longer hours to keep deliveries of vital goods flowing.
Some EU countries even relaxed their limits on truck driver resting times during the worst of the Covid-19 crisis.