Drivers behaving badly: Road safety in the age of coronavirus

Empty road on a suspension bridge.

Blanche Clarke

Posted March 31, 2020

Drivers warned to stay safe as coronavirus sees traffic disappear from Victorian roads.

RACV and Victoria Police are warning drivers to concentrate and remain courteous during the COVID-19 situation. Road Policing Command Assistant Commissioner Libby Murphy says there is angst and stress in the community, which can diminish drivers’ focus on road rules and safety.

“Everyone responds differently in these unprecedented times, but road trauma does not stop happening,” she says.

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

While Victoria Police expects fewer cars on Victorian roads due to the COVID-19 restrictions, Libby says there will be increased police presence, and preliminary breath tests (PBTs) will still be conducted.

“Rest assured that police will be highly visible and mobile, with PBTs to test drivers who choose to drink and drive,” she says. “This means we will be anywhere at any time continuing our commitment to reduce road trauma, keeping our road users and community safe.”

RACV senior policy adviser for safety Elvira Lazar says road conditions will change in coming weeks, but road-safety issues remain the same.

“People might be stressed or distracted, and in the current environment it is more important than ever to pay attention to the roads and be courteous to other drivers for your safety and the safety of others,” she says.

Diminished traffic on a road in Port Melbourne.

Roads all across Melbourne are quickly becoming desolate.


Elvira says there are five factors, known as the ‘Fatal Five’, that contribute to injury and deaths on Victorian roads: failure to use seatbelts, distraction with mobile phones, drug or alcohol impairment, speed and fatigue.

“These factors are still present, they haven’t gone away just because there are declines in traffic volumes,” she says.

She warns that distraction and fatigue may become bigger issues during the COVID-19 situation, as people’s minds are elsewhere while driving and workers in critical roles work longer hours.

At the time of writing, 64 people had been killed on Victorian roads in 2020, nine fewer than for the same period last year but 11 more than in 2018. And Elvira says the road toll tells only part of the total road trauma story. “For every death you hear about on Victorian roads, there are another 30 people injured,” she says.

“We need to think about this issue more seriously. People think, ‘this [a car crash] isn’t going to happen to me’. But this road-safety problem isn’t going away.”