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Comment: The true impact of Covid on our roads

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The Covid-19 pandemic has been akin to a car crash for the UK’s health and economy. But collateral damage caused by the virus has also impacted other areas of people’s lives, including when it comes to getting behind the wheel.

Neil Greig, policy and research director at IAM RoadSmart, looks at the wide range of issues road users are telling are experiencing post-lockdown and its top hints and tips.

Neil Greig, policy and research director at IAM RoadSmart

Anxious isolators returning to the roads

As many people embraced home working and online deliveries, many cars were left to languish on driveways and in garages.

But since social gatherings, offices, and schools have been the given the green light to return to normal, the nation’s roads are almost as busy as they were pre-lockdown.

But living in times of heightened anxiety and a deterioration of driving skills having not driven for a long period of time, has left many reluctant to get back in the driver’s seat.

We recommend rebuilding confidence by undertaking short journeys on familiar roads, and then gradually increasing the distance of journeys.

Our driver’s courses are also available to improve your skills and confidence.

MOT tests delayed

Due to the national lockdown, cars, motorcycles, and vans were given a six-month extension to acquire their MOT certificate, resulting in a backlog of millions of tests scheduled for the next month.

While most cars have now passed the six-month extension some motorists may be unaware of when their vehicle’s MOT is due and for those who took advantage of exemptions and extensions last year might struggle to satisfy this year’s test.

If your vehicle is driving around without a valid MOT, it could mean it is not safe for the road and could result in a £1,000 fine.

That’s why we urge road users to check their vehicle’s MOT status online as soon as possible and get their MOT booked if needed to avoid leaving ‘safety to chance’.

Lack of use during lockdown

But vehicle checks shouldn’t just be left to an annual MOT test.

Maintenance checks are something car owners should be doing weekly. But during the last 18 months of irregular usage, many vehicles have not received the attention they need.

For example, tyres may not have done as many miles of the last year and a half but that doesn’t mean they don’t have to be maintained. Tyres will deflate and deteriorate over time, even when a vehicle is just sat in a garage or driveway.

As a result, we remind all vehicle owners to check their tyres are properly inflated at the right level of pressure, as well as check for any cracks or signs of damage on the sidewalls.

Of course, checks should also be carried out on other parts of your vehicle. Check out a previous blog post on practical maintenance tips for your car or motorcycle.

Driving test backlog

The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) revealed that half as many driving tests were taken in 2020 compared to 2019.

While the DVSA has attempted to tackle this issue by extending testing hours and training more examiners, there is still a huge backlog of people waiting for their practical test.

For some, this will also mean having to retake the theory test, as the certificate expires after two years. So, for those still learning to drive, we recommend checking when your theory test is set to expire.

Driver fatigue

Our study found that the underlying pressures faced by working drivers that were already prevalent before the pandemic are now likely to worsen.

Delivery drivers, taxi drivers, the gig-economy and even company car drivers face constant pressure to keep up with demand throughout the pandemic and this, along with resultant fatigue, has a negative impact on their mental and physical health.

So, we urge working drivers to split up long stretches of driving with breaks to avoid drowsiness.

Also, coffee with caution! It’s good to note that a caffeine drink may be a quick fix, but it is not a long-term solution and certainly no substitute for a good night’s sleep and we recommend avoiding energy drinks at all costs as this makes the situation much worse.

Staycation congestion and scrapped trailer tests

Motorists faced bumper-to-bumper queues as holidaymakers took to destinations across the UK for domestic holidays, otherwise known as staycations.

And with the popularity of staycations expected to continue post pandemic, we urge drivers to stay calm! Our stress related investigation, discovered that more than four-in-ten motorists (42%) are anxious about returning to sitting in long tail backs.

Also, tests for drivers who wish to tow a heavy trailer or caravan are set to be scrapped as policy makers race to lighten the load for examiners amid the HGV crisis. Of course, the timing of this decision is controversial given the growing popularity of caravanning holidays.

Caravan and trailer tests are designed to assist towers with some of the issues they may encounter while towing. These include a lateral swaying movement of the trailer referred to as snaking.

In the absence of a test, we urge towers to load securely. By distributing evenly inside the trailer, it ensures the trailer does carry not too little or too much nose weight. Also, be aware that the maximum speed limit on a single carriageway road is 50mph, and 60mph on a dual carriageway or motorway

Stressed emergency service workers

During the pandemic, emergency service workers had the job of keeping the country safe, even in challenging conditions.

No doubt, this has resulted in an increase in mental health related issues, such as stress and anxiety. The pandemic has also led to increased pressure on Accident and Emergency Departments.

IAM RoadSmart reminds drivers that it is crucial that we all maintain good driving and riding standards as a way to show support and enable NHS frontline staff to continue to focus their time and efforts on tackling COVID-19.

IAM riding and driving courses put on hold

The IAM RoadSmart advanced driver and rider course improves skills and knowledge, boosts confidence and opens motorists’ eyes to the idea that there is always something new to learn to make yourself an even better driver.

IAM RoadSmart also offer a range of other valuable courses, including young driver assessments for boosting confidence, circuit-based skills days, and on-road modules.

However, due to the pandemic, these courses were put on hold. Undoubtedly, this has deprived thousands of drivers with the chance to enrich their skills.

But we are happy to confirm that these courses are now available again for road users to undertake now that lockdown restrictions have eased. Explore our range of courses here to see which one could enhance your driving skills.

Deterioration in skills and roadcraft

A Nationwide study by Nextbase has revealed that UK drivers believe that lockdown has had a detrimental impact on their driving habits, and that they are sure they would fail their driving test if they had to take it again today.

The study also found that 29% of UK drivers said they are anxious about motorway driving, 22% admitted they steer one-handed, 12% confessed they easily get distracted, while 15% stated they drive far too quickly.

While it was inevitable that lockdown would result in rusty skills and confidence issues due to a break from the roads, we urge road users to refresh their skills and knowledge, ensuring our roads are kept as safe as possible.

Speeding up but crashes down

Data from the Department for Transport (DfT) revealed there were 1,472 fatalities in reported road accidents in 2020, a decrease of 16% from the previous year.

Of course, this can be attributed to the fact that the roads were less busy as usual amid the governments stay at home order.

However, worryingly, this opened the door for many motorists to flout speed limits. Data from the DfT also revealed that 56% of cars exceeded the speed limit on 30mph roads along with 53% on motorways and 12% on national speed limit single carriageway roads. This compares to 54%, 50% and 9% respectively for 2019, prior to the pandemic.

With this in mind, we urge all motorists to watch their speed, even when the roads are emptier.

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