Comment: Road rules for the restart
Clive Buhagiar, interim chief operating officer and head of operational services at Alphabet GB, on the new road rules post-lockdown and driving etiquette in a socially distanced society.
During the nationwide lockdown, very few of us were using our vehicles, other than for a trip to the supermarket or to make essential journeys, meaning road traffic was minimal. With lockdown restrictions easing, drivers have returned to the roads in their masses and often for the first time in many weeks.
We’re all getting used to new social behaviours in our everyday lives, and driving is no exception. The ‘new normal’ has changed the rules of the road and we need to adapt the driving etiquette we are accustomed to. There are new scenarios and risks, which drivers now need to take on board before embarking on their journeys.
The Government temporarily lifted congestion charges in London during the height of the pandemic to aid key workers travelling without the need to use public transport. However, as of 22 June, congestion charges apply until 10pm, have been extended to apply seven days a week and have increased to £15, so make sure you don’t get caught out and check all charges before driving into the city.
Book your MOT
When lockdown was first enforced, the DVSA granted an automatic six-month extension for MOTs due after 30 March. However, the Government has now announced that mandatory MOT testing has been reintroduced from 1 August 2020. So, when it is safe to do so, for vehicles over three-years old and with an MOT due for renewal from 1 August, fleet managers should ensure all MOTs are booked into garages to ensure vehicles remain in good health. Drivers with an MOT due date before 1 August will still receive a six-month extension, although vehicles must remain properly maintained and roadworthy. Please refer to the Government website for further guidance and updates.
Navigating the motorway
After weeks of working from home and not travelling long distances, returning to motorways may be daunting. Some of Alphabet’s customers have reported tiredness on journeys that would have once been second nature for them. This can impair driving responses and make the road network a more dangerous place to be.
It’s important to ensure that your fleet drivers are scheduling regular breaks on journeys as they return to the roads, as even the most experienced of drivers may struggle to adapt to longer trips again.
Socially distanced pedestrians
While we’re all now used to social distancing when out in shops or walking, this may be easily forgotten when behind the wheel.
With pedestrians taking up more space to walk safely at a distance, many are finding themselves stepping off the pavement and into the road, causing increased hazards to both pedestrians and other road users. Similarly, with more of the nation taking up running during lockdown, drivers need to be cautious of runners darting out into the road as they pass people walking on the pavements at a safe distance.
It’s also important to remember how quiet electric vehicles can be on the roads, when compared to petrol or diesel vehicles. Pedestrians may be even less cautious when stepping out into the road if they believe they cannot hear any potential vehicles approaching.
Slower speeds and heightened awareness for potential risks in highly populated areas should be adopted by all drivers.
Whilst we’re all used to cyclists on the roads, with government advice to avoid public transport where necessary, the UK has seen a boom in people taking up cycling – some of the nation’s bike manufacturers have seen a huge surge in online sales since the start of April. As such, there are many new cyclists out on the road for the first time, who might not be used to navigating safely around vehicles. Drivers should take extra care when passing cyclists, providing more than enough clearance space and checking blind spots thoroughly.
This similarly applies to electric scooters, which may now increase in popularity as the Government trials e-scooter rental companies on the UK roads.
To accommodate the new demand and help cyclists travel safely, many local councils have changed road layouts to add new cycle lanes. This means your old journeys may have changed slightly and there are new precautions to look out for.
Similarly, to facilitate social distancing several high streets have recently become fully pedestrianised to create more open space for businesses to operate within. This could cause diversions and disrupted routes for many drivers so it is wise to check your journey in advance and allow extra time to reach your destination.
Although face masks are now a legal requirement for public transport and shops, you might not think about carrying it with you for a car journey. However, it is highly recommended that you store an emergency mask in your vehicle in case of a breakdown and needing to take an alternative vehicle home.
Similarly, you may need to stop at a service or petrol station, where face masks are also now required. Ensure you sanitise your hands before and after, and pay at the pump if available, in order to minimise contact with others.
As in many other aspects of life currently, we are all adapting and learning new ways to act as we navigate the ‘new normal’. For drivers, this is no exception. Being increasingly aware of new hazards both on and off the road and planning ahead for journeys will allow a smooth transition back to the road and help keep businesses on the move.