How Has COVID-19 Affected Road Safety?

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, road safety experts, including personal injury lawyers, attempted to predict how shelter-at-home measures would impact motor vehicle accident rates and driver behaviour. It was assumed, for example, that wide lockdowns would limit the use of personal automobiles, and that that would in turn reduce the number of serious accidents.

Around the time that the pandemic took hold in North America, the Global Alliance of NGOs for Road Safety compiled a list of factors that might affect road safety during and after the lockdowns. Below, we’ll look at a few key predictions and assess their accuracy.

There Will Be Fewer People on the Roads

The Global Alliance was correct in predicting that personal automobile use would decline amid the lockdowns. This effect has been noted around the world.

Unfortunately, the Alliance – and many personal injury lawyers – also guessed that fewer journeys would lead to fewer crashes. New data suggest this has not been the case. In the United States, a report from the National Safety Council (NSC) showed a 14 per cent year-over-year increase in fatality rates per distance driven in March. While overall traffic deaths – a figure that includes fatalities among drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and cyclists – were down 8 per cent, the overall number of miles driven was down 18 per cent, meaning road users are actually more likely to be killed than during the same period last year.

The numbers are equally discouraging in Ontario, where the OPP reported 71 deaths on patrolled roads as of May 4, up from 61 deaths during the same period in 2019. In both the United States and Ontario, speed appears to be a key factor.

“Disturbingly, we have open lanes of traffic and an apparent open season on reckless driving,” said NSC President Lorraine M Martin, according to the BBC. “Right now, in the midst of a global pandemic and crisis, we should take it as our civic duty to drive safely.”

“If we don’t do it for ourselves,” she added, “we should do it for our first responders, our law enforcement and our healthcare workers, who are rightly focused on coronavirus patients and should not be overwhelmed by preventable car crashes.”

Of the 71 deaths in Ontario, 17 were linked to speeding.

“We aren’t invincible,” said Lewis Smith, Canada Safety Council’s coordinator of communications, to Global News. “Speed may seem like a good idea because the roads are open, and you think you’re not putting anyone at risk, but the truth is risk can come in a hurry. Speed incenses the likelihood of something happening you don’t have time to react too.”

Even before it became apparent that lighter traffic would not lead to fewer deaths, safety experts were concerned about cars eventually returning to the roads.

“Some radio programs and news reels are showing empty streets and realizing that it’s true that there are no road crashes because of this, but what will happen when we all go out again?” asked Viviam Perrone of Argentina’s Asociación Civil Madres del Dolor in a Global Alliance article. “… we should learn to live with our foot off the accelerator when we return to the streets.”

Fewer People Will Use Public Transit

It was expected at the onset of the pandemic that mass transit ridership would plummet – this has played out as expected. It is unlikely that riders will return to public transit in the near future.

From a road safety perspective, this is a problem. Traveling via mass transit is in general much safer than travelling in a personal automobile. If fewer people choose to take mass transit in the near future, that will mean more automobiles on the road and, in all likelihood, more accidents.

If cities want to avoid a major spike in traffic accidents as their lockdowns are lifted, they must encourage commuters to travel on foot or by bicycle as much as possible. They must also develop strategies for effectively sanitizing public transit vehicles and restoring public trust.

Road Safety Strategies Will be Put on Hold

The City of Toronto is already familiar with the challenges of implementing a comprehensive road safety strategy; even before the pandemic, it struggled to make progress with its Vision Zero approach. As public resources are reallocated to deal with COVID-19, personal injury lawyers fear that road safety measures will tumble down the list of priorities. There is also concern that public messaging and awareness campaigns around road safety will be drowned out by the deserved focus on the virus.

“In general, it would seem that most of the public will be distracted, from road safety messages and that perhaps some of what we road safety advocates might usually be doing might need to wait until COVID comes under control,” said University of Washington Global Health professor Carlie Mock in the Global Alliance article.

Contact an Experienced Personal Injury Lawyer

If you or a member of your family has been injured in a traffic accident amid COVID-19, contact Will Davidson LLP today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation. Our team of personal injury lawyers is continuing to accept new clients throughout the lockdown. Don’t hesitate to be in touch with any questions or concerns.

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People with Disabilities, Including Spinal and Brain Injury Victims, are at Elevated Risk from COVID-19

Everyone has been affected by the spread of COVID-19, but the most serious impacts have been felt by marginalized and at-risk populations: the elderly, homeless people, people with pre-existing medical conditions, people with addictions, racial and social minorities, and survivors of serious injuries. Among personal injury lawyers, there is significant concern that current and former clients do not have access to the necessary supports. Long-term care facilities, which sometimes house brain and spinal injury survivors, are hotbeds for the virus, and injury victims living at home may find themselves suddenly isolated.

Below, we’ll discuss some of the unique challenges faced by survivors of serious injuries amid this unprecedented global health emergency.

Long-Term Care Fears

Canada has been relatively effective in controlling the spread of COVID-19 in the general population. Long-term care homes have been less successful: roughly half of all COVID-19 deaths have occurred in these facilities.

The situation is so bleak that family members are removing loved ones, even when the chances of readmission are slim. Unfortunately, this approach highlights another concern for personal injury lawyers: how will injury survivors living at home access medical care under social distancing guidelines? Speaking to CTV News Toronto, an Ontario woman who removed her husband from long-term care articulated the issue:

“My concerns are – he no longer has a doctor,” said Barbara Heuman. “His doctor took care of him for three-and-a-half years while he was at Dufferin Oaks, but I was told they are no longer able to care of him. So when they sent me home from Dufferin Oaks yesterday, I got one week’s medication, that’s it.”

Lack of Access to Medical Care

For many seriously injured accident victims, recovery is a lifelong pursuit that requires consistent medical care and attention. Spinal and brain injury victims often undergo years of rehabilitation, chiropractic therapy, and physiotherapy, often in clinical settings.

Access to these services may be limited for months or years. Medical professionals in Canada are all-hands-on-deck in the fight against COVID-19 – those who are unable to help on the front lines are avoiding hospitals and emergency wards as much as possible. For injury victims, a sudden and indefinite pause in treatment can be damaging to the recovery process.

Brain injury survivors may also lose access to social services such as occupational therapy and attendant care.

Mental Health Concerns

In a March 31 article for the Prince George Citizen, Diane Nakamura, a brain injury survivor, described some of the day-to-day symptoms that many survivors experience.

“Suffering from anxiety and depression,” she wrote. “Not having enough energy in a day to complete necessary tasks. Inability to cook because of poor memory and sequencing issues. Dealing with financial stress because of lost employment. Not understanding important letters or phone calls due to cognitive deficits. Experiencing conflict with family members and friends who don’t understand the limitations survivors have. Possessing low self-esteem and confidence because of the significant life changes after brain injury. Not feeling normal or accepted by their personal network and the community.”

Many of these issues, Nakamura wrote, have been aggravated by the strict social distancing measures necessary to limit the virus’s spread. Brain injury survivors have less access to mental health resources than they did at the beginning of the year, and fewer opportunities to connect with friends and family in-person.

Lack of Financial or Government Support

Some injury victims coping with this new reality feel left behind. Activists say governments have failed to consider injury survivors in their COVID-19 responses. The little support that has been offered is considered woefully insufficient.

“As families who are supporting our sons and daughters with disabilities, who live with us in the community – we feel forgotten. We’re not even on the radar,” said Robin Acton, whose daughter has Down syndrome, to CBC News Edmonton in April.

“We as a family are incredibly fearful of what happens if our daughter gets sick and has to go to the hospital,” she added. “She’s going to need me or her dad there to help her understand and interpret what’s going on. She would be absolutely terrified.”

In Ontario, the provincial government has made additional resources available to people with disability through the Ontario Disability Support Program. However, community representatives say the additional benefits – up to $100 for individuals and up to $200 for families – are simply not enough.

“We are part of a community that is often just an afterthought,” said Nadine Law, co-founder of Sudbury not-for-profit Access2all, to Sudbury.com. “My clients and I are not being recognized or taken care of. It wasn’t until this pandemic that I realized my voice had to get a little bit louder.”

Contact a Personal Injury Lawyer Today

Crises tend to highlight the gap between the haves and have-nots in our society, and the COVID-19 pandemic is no exception. As personal injury lawyers dealing with seriously injured accident victims, Will Davidson LLP is committed to providing legal support for some of Ontario’s most vulnerable populations. If you or a member of your family has been injured in an accident, contact us today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation.

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