Drivers are being urged to curb their speed as coronavirus measures have led to more people walking on the roads.

Campaign group Road Safety GB North East (RSGB NE) said since the North East went into lockdown ten days ago, there had been a notable shift in both driver and pedestrian behaviour on the region’s roads.

Research since lockdown began on the evening of Monday, March 23, shows there is less than half the normal amount of traffic on weekdays, and only a third on weekends (down 67%), with larger reductions on local roads.

However, traffic speeds have increased on most roads, with many seeing average speeds around 5mph higher than normal. The data shows that some people are sticking to the speed limit, but there are more extreme speeds being recorded, which is pulling the average up.

Coupled with more people walking, cycling and jogging on the roads in order to social distance from others, an accident is waiting to happen.

“We have only been in lockdown just over a week, but already we have seen a marked shift in the way some drivers are using the roads. They need to slow down,” said Paul Watson, RSGB NE Chairman.

“As the lockdown has resulted in most people working from home and only going out once a day to exercise, there has been an increase in people walking, running and cycling around their local areas.

“In order to give other pedestrians a wide berth, many are walking on the roads, or crossing over frequently, in order to social distance and ensure they are at least 2m from anyone else.

“If vehicles are passing at speed, it makes for a dangerous combination. Unless people take care, it’s only a matter of time before someone is seriously injured or killed.”

If a vehicle hits a pedestrian:

  • at 40 mph, there is a 90 percent chance they will be killed.
  • at 35 mph, there is a 50 percent chance they will be killed.
  • at 30 mph, there is a 20 percent chance they will be killed.
  • at 20 mph, there is a 2.5 percent chance they will be killed.

Police Inspector Steve Clyburn, from the Cleveland and Durham Specialist Operations Unit, said: “During lockdown, whilst only essential journeys must be taken, we would like to remind drivers that officers are still out there enforcing the law and trying to keep our roads as safe as possible. Whilst the roads may be quieter because many people are staying at home, this does not give motorists the go ahead to drive above the legal speed limits, and we have seen examples of this over the last week or so.

“There are still other vehicles on the road and pedestrians and passengers to consider as well as yourselves. Collisions could put additional strain onto the NHS and emergency services at an already demanding time, and so we’re asking people to take care on the roads and please stick to the speed limits.”

Motor Patrols Chief Inspector Sam Rennison, from Northumbria Police, said: “We are extremely grateful to all those who are respecting the stay-at-home measures in place to help stop the spread of Coronavirus and ultimately save lives.

“This has inevitably led to a reduction in the number of motorists on our roads, with the overwhelming majority driving safely. However, unfortunately, there will always be individuals who believe the laws of the road do not apply to them.

“I want to be clear, there can be no excuse to speed or drive in an irresponsible manner. We will continue to patrol our region’s roads and do everything we can to ensure they remain as safe as possible for those who still need to use them at this time.”

In 2019, there were 800 pedestrian casualties on North East roads, 18 fatal, 263 serious and 519 slight.

One in ten pedestrian fatalities involved a speeding driver, while speeding drivers were involved in 25% of all road deaths.

However, it’s important to note that more than half of all pedestrian collisions are at least partly due to the pedestrian themselves failing to look properly. This increases to 75% when collisions involve a child pedestrian.

Paul added: “In these unprecedented times, we have a responsibility to ease the strain on our emergency services – including the NHS.

“Drivers, only go out when you need to, and all road-users, please take extra care whenever you are out and about. If you are walking or running on the roads, watch out for vehicles.