One silver lining of the COVID-19 crisis is with significantly reduced motor vehicle traffic nationwide, more people are walking and bicycling for exercise and transportation.

In Maine, people of all ages are on the roads walking, running, using canes, wheelchairs, walking dogs and riding bikes, scooters and skateboards. Human activity makes places feel vibrant, and seeing folks out moving around helps us imagine how our roads could be: places for people, not just people in cars. Instead of driving somewhere to exercise or be outside, more people are experiencing the beauty right outside their door.

Many drivers are seeing this increase, slowing down and giving people space when passing – showing we can coexist on roads when everyone is looking out for one another. When the roads feel safe, it encourages more people to walk and bike, and with more walkers and bicyclists using the roads, drivers are more likely to become accustomed to driving safely near them. This is a proven “safety in numbers” effect.

People tend to drive more slowly and attentively on streets with multiple types of road users, which makes roads safer for everyone, not just pedestrians and bicyclists. The reduced number of reported crashes for March may be additional evidence of increased roadway civility. According to the Maine Department  of Transportation, there were 2,777 crashes in March 2019. This year, there were 1,864 crashes in March, a 32.8 percent decrease. In April, crashes decreased 47 percent – from 2,499 last year down to 1,323 this year. This is no doubt because fewer cars are on the road, but possibly also because drivers are being more observant and respectful of others on the road.

While we are seeing many drivers sharing the road, however, there are also drivers who are not being considerate, and some are using the lower traffic volumes to drive faster. In the past two months, many bicyclists, pedestrians and runners have been hit by automobiles. Last week, a cyclist died after being struck by a driver in Rumford, and a 12-year-old cyclist in Sanford and a teenage cyclist in Durham each were injured in hit and runs. While we don’t know all the details, the victims in the non-fatal crashes have injuries because drivers may not have been attentive or were traveling at speeds that did not consider the possibility of having to move over, yield or stop for others on the road.

These tragic situations can be prevented by slower speeds and considerate, responsible and vigilant driving. Cars and trucks are lethal devices, second only to guns in the number of people they kill in the U.S. each year. Less traffic is not an invitation to drive faster, and the drivers of motor vehicles need to be held accountable for violations of law and behavior that cause injury or death.

In this reduced-traffic environment, all users need to remember and abide by the rules of the road and take safety precautions. Drivers should always expect others on the road, and drive accordingly. When sight distance is short – going up a hill or around a curve – driving slowly gives time and space to avoid a vulnerable user on the road. Pedestrians should use sidewalks, and when there are no sidewalks, always walk facing traffic. Bright clothing is also helpful for visibility. At night, wearing reflective gear and carrying a light will make your presence on the road known to drivers who are paying attention.

Bicyclists should ride on the right-hand side of the road, in the same direction as traffic. They also should wear bright clothing. At night, the law requires a light on the front and a reflector or light on the back of the bicycle. When each of us behaves responsibly, and adheres to the law, roads are safer and more enjoyable for everyone to use.

We are showing how cooperative we can be as a society by taking precautions during this pandemic. Let’s continue to show cooperation by driving thoughtfully and with care while we share the road with people walking, riding bikes and using other modes of micro-mobility. We’re in this world together, so we need to be mindful and observant when on the roads – whatever our mode of moving is.

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