As the coronavirus pandemic tests our social fabric and discipline, its far-reaching effects on road safety are sobering, surprising, and—believe it or not—not entirely negative. Plus, learn how to clean your car properly.
In just a few short weeks, our world has been upended from you-know-what. As the coronavirus pandemic tests our social fabric and discipline, its far-reaching effects on road safety are sobering, surprising, and—believe it or not—not entirely negative.
It will be quite interesting next year when 2020 statistics are tallied to see if the pandemic lowers the overall global road fatality rate—and by how much. I’m guessing that it will, given that many major cities and entire countries have been on lockdown and millions of people forced to stay home from work and recreation. Rush hour has essentially disappeared in places legendary for their congestion, like Los Angeles and New York City. One byproduct is that air pollution has improved dramatically—and quickly—not only in places where commuter traffic dropped but also where concentrations of factories were idled, like in China.
Of course, empty roads mean plummeting economies, and the fallout from social distancing is pummeling the transportation world in wild ways. Like many industries, driver education has been hit hard, having switched almost entirely to online learning. In-car training has all but stopped, and the UK’s DVSA is suspending driving tests until possibly late June, except for critical workers. This has led to suggestions on how the UK’s driving instructors can find temporary employment in delivering groceries and essential supplies, for instance.
More ominous is the increased pressure on commercial truckers, who are being called on to deliver crucial food, medical equipment, and other supplies at unprecedented levels across the globe. Unfortunately, this sudden demand also means that the mandated limits of 14-hour days and certain types of regular breaks have been relaxed in the US for commercial drivers hauling emergency supplies. This is opening the door to more fatigued driving and thus potentially more crashes in their multi-ton rigs. But some truckers are also encountering the closure of truck stops, bathroom facilities, and buffet-style food choices, prompting revolt and resentment.
The rideshare industry has taken a huge hit as well for obvious reasons, with a number of drivers getting sick presumably from infected passengers. With tourism, social events, and restaurants ground to a halt, demand for passenger rides has plummeted, and since gig workers such as rideshare drivers are considered independent contractors, they cannot file for unemployment. While food and grocery delivery opportunities presumably abound, one rideshare driver wrote in his blog that delivery is “the lesser of two bad options” because much depends on the sanitation practices of who you’re delivering for and where and how you deliver the goods (one driver reported delivering to a hospital emergency room where he had to go inside). Do remember, however, that no-contact options are available with all the major food-delivery companies like Doordash, Caviar, Postmates, and Uber Eats.
The effects of the pandemic on rental bikes and electric scooters are more unclear. Some people without vehicles still need to get to work, so they may be resorting to these alternate forms of transportation, and Lime and Bird have both double-downed on their disinfecting measures. But in San Francisco, many of these companies have paused their operations, although the city’s Municipal Transportation Agency has announced that e-scooter rentals and bikeshare are considered “essential” services with city permission to continue operation. Still, city streets aren’t exactly swarming these days.
As you might expect, ridership on buses, subways, and other public transportation has all but collapsed. In some places, fares are being suspended and passengers instructed to enter and exit through rear doors to minimize drivers’ exposure to the coronavirus. Service on many bus and subway services have been curtailed or even suspended, so be sure to check your local transit schedule before heading out.
On a more encouraging note, automakers around the world are partnering with other companies to use their factories to manufacture masks, ventilators, and other urgently needed medical supplies. In China, where the pandemic is easing, most factories are back to work and consumer interest is growing again in vehicles. Two things are certain: This too shall pass, and once they do, there’ll be pent-up demand in going to places again—with all their benefits and drawbacks.
But for now, more immediate things are more urgent—such as how do I keep my vehicle clean? Whether or not you drive only for personal reasons or for rideshare, here are some tips:
A few final thoughts for these difficult times: