A recent study from the University of Windsor revealed that driving behaviours deteriorated during the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only was there an increase in dangerous driving habits, but drivers also distanced themselves from acknowledging their own bad practices.
The study is co-authored by University of Windsor Francesco Biondi, associate professor of kinesiology, and graduate student Erika Lopetrone. Their findings have been published in the Journal of Science, Engineering and Medicine.
Biondi, who is also the director of the university’s Human Systems Lab, says there were two motivations for doing the study. The first was the surprising trend toward more aggressive driving behaviours amid the pandemic, despite reduced traffic volume on the roads. The other motivation was to determine the impact to traffic safety with more people working remotely.
Why Did Driving Habits Deteriorate During the Pandemic?
One thought about the uptick in poor driving behaviours is that people may have become more phone dependent. With remote work becoming the trend, it is possible that people used their phones more often while driving.
Increased Stunt Driving and Aggressive Driving Violations
According to the article, police reports across North America showed an increase in aggressive driving and stunt driving behaviours. This trend led to more traffic deaths, despite the overall reduction of traffic volume and kilometres driven.
Police reported that the number of charges assessed during the pandemic reflect similar trends. For instance, when assessing the number of stunt driving charges:
- Windsor police laid 131 stunt driving violations in all of 2019
- In August 2020 (the start of this study), police had already laid 107 stunt driving charges
In just eight months, drivers had committed almost the same number of stunt driving violations as the whole of 2019.
What Was the Approach to the Study?
The study group involved 103 drivers in total. There was nearly an even number of male and female drivers, from Windsor to London. The study began in August 2020 and concluded in fall of the same year.
Study group participants were asked to respond to a series of questions about their own driving habits, as well as what they individually observed in others. The results were surprising. Interviewed drivers were less aware of their own poor driving habits compared to how they viewed the behaviours of others.
What Conclusions Were Reached From the Study?
Somehow study participants were able to disconnect how they viewed or felt about their own driving. They were not fully aware of their own dangerous driving habits.
Overall, the study showed that when there is less traffic volume, drivers are bolder and feel safer. For some drivers, this could mean becoming too relaxed and less attentive to potential road hazards. However, for others, emptier roads may lead to more aggressive driving behaviour, such as increased speeding and stunt driving.
Biondi said this behaviour was not exclusive to North America, similar patterns have been observed in areas of the U.S. as well.
Worst Violators in the Study
The study revealed that the drivers most likely to engage in aggressive driving behaviour were males, from 16-24 years of age.
In addition to speeding and stunt driving, distracted driving behaviours were also observed. During the pandemic, distracted driving may have increased due to:
- Ongoing issues of driving and texting
- More workers conducting business on the road
- People wanting to escape lockdown for awhile
What is the Purpose of This Study?
The main objective of this study is to provide more information and education to drivers and the public at large. It also helps government organizations, including safety and transportation, understand how lockdowns may have unexpected consequences.
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