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Hidden virus victims: With less traffic, speeds went up and more riders died

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After police raised concerns about some unexpected traffic trends in 2020, the Road Safety Data Bureau took a closer look.

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A Transport and Main Roads spokeswoman said the RSDB had sought to understand how restrictions on community movements, travel and mass gatherings coincided with an increase in road fatalities.

In 2020, there were 278 road fatalities in Queensland, 59 more than the year before.

The RSDB looked at the data from the first four months, and particularly the period from March 18 to May 31 when tougher COVID-19 restrictions were in place. Traffic volumes decreased by up to 40 per cent on state-controlled roads.

“The study found despite significant reductions in traffic volumes, road fatalities did not reduce, overall,” the spokeswoman said in a statement prepared for InQueensland.

“In fact, for vulnerable road users, particularly motorcycle riders/pillions and bicycle riders, there were increases in the number of fatalities, transport-related emergency department presentations and traffic-related hospital admissions.

“Based on analysis of the preliminary circumstances of fatalities, there was some evidence of increases in motor vehicle occupants not wearing a seatbelt, as well as motorcycle riders/pillions not wearing a helmet.”

The data showed some motorists were taking risks by speeding but others were simply pushing the limit.

“While the majority of vehicles were still travelling at, or below, the speed limit, there was an indication of some increased travel speeds within the speed limit, particularly in the higher speed brackets,” the spokeswoman said.

The number of motorcycle riders and passengers, and also bicycle riders, killed in 2020 was above the five-year average, but for motor vehicles the number of passengers fatalities was below the average. It was suggested that might be due to more motorists travelling alone.

“The pattern in road-user types was also reflected in the Queensland Health data,” the spokeswoman said.

“While there were fewer, overall, transport-related ambulance attendances, emergency department presentations, and hospital admissions during the COVID-19 restrictions compared to the same period in 2019, they were greater for bicycle riders and motorcycle riders.”

The spokeswoman said the findings would better inform government responses associated with the road trauma trends identified.

The Queensland Police Service recently launched a campaign to reduce motorcycle fatalities in 2021, and is using new speed detection methods – including, for the first time, helicopter-based computer systems.

Concerns have long been raised about food delivery riders being more vulnerable during the pandemic.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk today shared images of quiet roads to thank Greater Brisbane residents for complying with the latest lockdown.

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