A new study led by the University of South Australia (UniSA) shows a 30 per cent reduction in cars on Adelaide streets during the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020 did little to improve road safety.
The study shows that despite seven per cent fewer car crashes due to the lockdown, accidents were more severe and crash hotspots moved from the metropolitan area to the city fringes.
Wednesdays aside, the number of car accidents on weekdays fell but increased on Sundays and Mondays. This was attributed to drivers spending leisure time outside the city after a week working from home. The study also shows drink-driving and speeding offences rose sharply immediately after the lockdown lifted.
Lead researcher Dr Ali Soltani, Urban Planner at UniSA, said crash sites during the COVID-19 lockdown shifted from workplaces, schools, and universities to green spaces and outer suburbs.
While the CBD remained the major crash hotspot, car accidents fell sharply in industry clusters in Elizabeth, Salisbury, Port Adelaide and Lonsdale, as well as Adelaide Airport, Flinders University, and UniSA’s Mawson Lakes Campus, while more accidents occurred in the Adelaide Hills and beach suburbs.
Soltani collected road accident data in metropolitan Adelaide from January 2019 until December 2021, 12 months before and after lockdown.
“These figures mirror what happened nationally, with Australia recording a slight drop in road fatalities – eight per cent – between March and August 2020,” said Soltani.
The UniSA researcher also looked at the influence of other factors, such as land use mix, road intersection density, driver age, car ownership, family size, and household income on car accident frequency during the three-year time frame.
“Crashes were less likely to occur among people living in a large family, probably because an older person is often in a car with a younger person moderating their driving. Likewise with married couples,” he said.
“Long term residents are also less likely to experience crashes in their neighbourhood because of their familiarity with local roads, compared to newer residents or those born overseas.”
Car crashes were also less common near public transport stations.
“The COVID-19 crisis in Australia led to a rise in unemployment and remote working, reducing the accident rate from job-related traffic. One takeaway from the data is that encouraging people to work from home or take public transport could be a strategy to minimise traffic accidents, particularly near industrial areas and work clusters,” said Soltani.