The pragmatist, the realist and the optimist

In Newsletter Editorial4 MinutesBy Gavin MyersFebruary 11, 2022

I try to avoid the topic of Covid-19 as much as possible. That’s not to say I sit with my head in the sand; I just no longer consider it engaging conversation. Call it fatigue and a desire to move on.

Of course, there’s no denying the impact it’s had on the lives of every person walking Planet Earth since the end of 2019. But two years down the track, the bloody thing’s still around, still trying to get us, and we’re still fighting it.

The pragmatist in me asks, why are we still bothering? We’ve seen, by the data, that it’s not a killer on the scale of many other viruses and diseases that have plagued, or are plaguing, humanity. And we’ve seen, by its continual mutations, that nature will find a way to win out in the end.

On the other hand, the realist in me sees that it’s only by way of man’s dogged determination to fight for survival and stave off threats – however they may present – that our species has come this far and proliferated to the extent it has.

Humans being human, though, it takes very little to find ourselves entangled in all sorts of misfortune (as much as we try to limit and eliminate that, too). Take road-related injuries and deaths, for example. Huge strides have been made in automotive safety and – with advanced engineering techniques and gigabytes of electronic wizardry – vehicles on the road today do a better job of protecting their occupants and other road users than ever before. But for the human factor…

Anyway, when the International Transport Forum’s latest road safety annual report recently arrived in my inbox, it was its subtitle that got my attention: ‘The Impact of Covid-19’. While this was the 2021 report, its focus was to compare 2020 road-fatality data against a baseline average of the three pre-pandemic years, 2017 to 2019. So did the bug cause carnage on the world’s roads? Or did lockdowns prove to be the key to eliminating road fatalities? This is what the researchers initially, perhaps optimistically, expected – keeping people off the roads will obviously result in a reduction in numbers for any measurable metric.

Incredibly, they found traffic volumes were only 12.2% lower than the baseline and the number of fatalities were down by just 8.6% across 34 countries with validated data. On a global scale, that’s barely a blip on the radar.

“The data available suggests that a reduction in the amount of travel does not automatically translate into fewer road deaths or reduced risk,” the report states. “Overall, the reductions in the number of road deaths in 2020 expected as a result of the mobility restrictions imposed to combat the Covid-19 pandemic did not happen at the anticipated scale.”

On the home front, the report states that New Zealand showed a 17% decrease in road deaths for 2020 compared with the baseline – almost in the middle of the 34 countries. Interestingly, New Zealand’s graph shows clear dips that align with our lockdowns and alert-level changes.

The really interesting thing will be the reported numbers for 2021. The realist in me expects a return to pre-pandemic levels. The optimist hopes the downward trend will continue. As for the pragmatist – well, here’s hoping the government doesn’t add ‘national lockdowns’ to its hat of road-safety ideas.

Take care out there,

Gavin Myers