Dangerous driving spikes as traffic on Victorian roads drops

Moving Well | Story: Sue Hewitt | Photos: Matt Harvey | Posted on 25 May 2020

Drug driving, speeding on the rise despite halving of road traffic, police say.

A significant drop in traffic during the COVID-19 crisis has coincided with a spike in dangerous driving, according to police, safety experts and road operators. 

Figures released by toll-road operator Transurban reveal that 40 per cent of vehicles travelling on CityLink during April were exceeding the speed limit, compared to an average 25 to 30 per cent during normal conditions. One quarter of heavy vehicles using the road in April were speeding.  

Panorama of Monash freeway network

Transurban spokesman Phil Naulls says motorists may have been “using lighter traffic conditions to flout the law”. 

“Some people are using the conditions to speed, which puts everyone in increased danger,” he says. 

Police also report a “higher ratio” of speeding drivers, as well as a higher proportion of drug-affected motorists, despite up to 50 per cent fewer cars on parts of the road network.  

“We are seeing significantly disturbing driving at very, very high speeds, right across the road network," says police deputy commissioner Shane Patton. He says there are also “significant numbers of drug drivers for the numbers of vehicles we are intercepting”. 

RACV’s senior policy adviser on safety, Elvira Lazar, says it is discouraging that a 50 per cent drop in traffic volumes in parts of the network over the past two months has not been reflected in a similar drop in deaths on Victoria’s roads.  

We are seeing significantly disturbing driving at very, very high speeds, right across the road network.

Elvira says while some people may feel safer with less traffic, others take it as a chance to speed. 

Extensive research shows that speed significantly increases the severity of injury in a crash, she says, “so we urge all drivers to stay within the posted speed limit and drive to the conditions at all times”. 

She says it is especially important that drivers take extra care as restrictions ease and more people return to the roads.  

“Drivers need to be even more cautious, stay focused and alert especially with significant increases in the number of people walking, jogging and riding bikes in their local neighbourhoods,” she says.  

“Key factors such as impairment through drugs or alcohol, fatigue, distraction, as well as speeding and seatbelt use, are just as important to be mindful of now as they were before restrictions were implemented.” 

Elvira says while mobile-phone distraction remains a significant concern, stress and worry over issues such as job security or health can also be dangerous distractions when driving.  

Trucks speeding down freeway
Car tailgating on freeway

When driving at 50kmh, a two-second lapse in concentration is equivalent to travelling blindfolded for almost 30 metres, she says.   

Both CityLink and Eastlink operators have also reported an increase in debris and loads falling off vehicles during April. 

“We’re urging motorists to be more careful out on the roads,” says Transurban’s Phil Naulls. “If it’s not secure, it shouldn’t be on the road. CityLink is a high-speed environment and even the smallest bit of debris presents a significant risk to other motorists. 

“We have eyes on the road 24/7 and our crews arrive to an incident in as quick as a few minutes, but we need the public to do their part and not put other drivers at risk.” 

Road Policing Command assistant commissioner Libby Murphy warns that police are continuing to target people driving dangerously including those not wearing seatbelts or driving while fatigued or distracted.  

“If you are getting behind the wheel of a car, only do so if you can dedicate your mind and attention to driving,” she says. 

“We’re going through a period where there is undoubtedly angst and stress in our community, and this can play a significant part in drivers not fully concentrating on the task at hand. Despite less traffic, road safety remains an absolute priority for Victoria Police.” 

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