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Comment: How rising car use could affect road risk

Colin Paterson, head of marketing, DriveTech UK

Colin Paterson, head of marketing at DriveTech, part of the AA, looks at how a switch away from public transport and increased car/active travel usage and reallocated roads could affect road risk issue.

The Government’s very recent investment announcements, like so much recent activity forced upon us necessarily and reactively by the global Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown measures, are pretty bullish and driven as regards commitments to things mainly other than motor vehicles and motoring. Most notable is a further push towards micro-mobility and in particular a greater recognition of the need for space being provided for cyclists and walkers.

Our current mandatory isolations, whilst pretty restrictive around private and business lives, have at least allowed us to appreciate a significantly, if not dramatically quieter, ‘slower’ environment and with measures indicating air quality has vastly improved, especially in urban areas normally blighted in this regard.

So is this unexpected, unpleasant and very unwelcome pandemic a perverse force for ultimate good in the mobility landscape, and does this indicate the accelerated death knell for motoring and the motor vehicle as we know it?

For sure, I have enjoyed a regular walk or cycle in my locality for my daily dose of exercise and noticed the birdsong and relative tranquillity (and often with family members in tow – new bonding to the fore) and the quality of home life is interestingly good. Online meetings/conferences are efficient too, but I do want to ‘get out and about’ again in a business context.

But the macro-economic backdrop is not good, and businesses trying to ride the storm currently – large and small – are likely to come out of this horrific ‘scrape’ with a little more than a few bruises. So how does the modal attention shift affect fleets in a macro and micro way?

Well, the current use of trains and other ‘close-proximity’ public transport is not great in the eyes of commuters so finding an immediate alternative is key. Apart from the challenges of congestion in urban locations, the car is currently a pretty practical means of travel allowing social distancing to be achieved and allowing you to get accurately from A to B.

With a shameless bias in my reflections around driver behaviour and road safety – for the ‘motorist’ (and I importantly include those involved in the essential transportation of goods, as well as service engineers and other van fleets, as well as the more archetypal passenger car vehicle fleets) it means a greater awareness of much less exclusive road-space in built-up areas, and a need to be even more conscious of ‘sharing the road’ with a greater volume of more vulnerable, slower moving and less protected road users. Greater care, attention and patience will have to be exercised, and the current freedom of the road’ in lockdown will disappear and motorists will have to abide by the rules on speeding, driver distraction and much more.

It is inevitable that fleets will have to analyse the still popular and often default use of the motor vehicle in towns and cities and think multi-modal and ‘last-mile’ alternatives. In particular, I am personally intrigued by the likes of e-scooters and the Government’s greater encouragement to consider legalising them. With sound safety provisions they should be a good addition (although I must remember to get a new warm raincoat with hood soon).

On a macro-level, and with the business world now in dire need of reinventing positive trading and profit growth, and until the role of the ‘workhorse’ and default (and multiple passenger and goods-carrying) motor vehicle is realistically replaced in scale and volume by alternatively powered vehicles that are more immediately environmentally friendly and accessibly-priced, I think the heavy focus on local and more micro-means of travel should not totally dominate our immediate future. These are great enhancements and might in time change the landscape, but we need to kickstart a now free-falling economy and to ignore the role that the current mainstream transportation system that is the motor vehicle plays in this regeneration would be an oversight to say the least.