The Impact of War on Road Safety in Ukraine

News, Ukraine

The war and its negative social consequences have completely changed the lives of the Ukrainian people, including a variety of new risks to citizens’ basic rights to life, health and property.

This is also true in the field of road safety, which is subject to additional threats due to the war. The period of martial law and the forced necessity of millions of Ukrainian citizens to travel by car over considerable distances across the country has only increased the vulnerability of road users, giving the issue of road safety new significance.

Armoured vehicles, trucks without number plates, cars with polyethylene instead of glass – the war has changed the appearance of our roads. Defence and safety have become the primary criteria and many other regulatory requirements – including road law – have become secondary considerations. Not everyone follows the rules of the road in these circumstances. Furthermore, the changing nature of traffic on Ukrainian roads and city streets has made many drivers anxious and nervous, which has inevitably led to an increased probability of more serious crashes and casualties. Many  law-abiding drivers are already feeling the consequences of these changes.

During the first half of 2022 (January – May), the number of road crashes in Ukraine decreased by a third. The Patrol Police attribute this to the decrease in the intensity of traffic. At the same time, it is noted that more serious crashes occurred, and many in places that did not see many crashes before, due to the removal of road signs and the appearance of artificial obstacles in the road. Stationary speed cameras were turned off, possibly accounting for the fact that the main cause of recorded road crashes in Ukraine for 2022 has been drivers exceeding safe and permitted speeds (45% of crashes with fatalities/injuries).

Since then, the gradual increase in road traffic, severe destruction of the roads, and installation of roadblocks has forced a review of our approach to road traffic management in Ukraine. Different territories have been affected by the war in different ways, so road safety management has been adapted to conditions depending on the level of safety in each region.

Under martial law, every delay in removing damaged cars from the roadway or the legal relations management between parties involved in a traffic crash, has much greater consequences than in peacetime. The removal of signs helps to keep the enemy disoriented, but at the same time, this makes it difficult to maintain an adequate speed regime in populated areas. Currently, taking into account the martial law, 128 stationary speed control cameras have been restored across 20 cities and 10 regions of Ukraine. In the regions where active hostilities continue, namely Donetsk, Luhansk, Kharkiv, Zaporizhzhia, Mykolaiv and Kherson, speed control devices are not connected to the system.

Russia’s extensive, ongoing bombardment of Ukraine’s critical infrastructure, including energy, water and transport, often leaves Ukrainian streets in total blackout. Vulnerable road users, like children, pedestrians, and cyclists, are almost invisible on the road. In cities like Lviv that are hosting a large number of internally displaced persons, the authorities have requested donations of equipment and PPE to help manage increased levels of traffic. This is an area that my NGO, Impact, is assisting with.

Peacetime traffic safety measures are difficult enough to implement in relatively peaceful territories, but in active battlefield areas they are all but impossible. The Patrol Police, together with the local authorities, carry out road inspections where they can and offer solutions for streamlining the traffic around the roadblocks. However, road users are also having to adapt to the wartime realities. There are many additional hazards creating risks for road users including:

  • Debris across the road: after shelling and explosions, metal and brick fragments from buildings and equipment often remain on the road. This debris can easily damage tyres or the underneath of cars putting drivers and their passengers at risk.

  • Speed is more of a hazard than ever. The many unexpected hazards on the roads – falling missiles, damaged roads, military vehicles – mean that drivers need additional time to react.
  • Dangers on the journey: what were once safe routes now have significant dangers. There are many military convoys including trucks, armoured personnel vehicles or tanks on the road, bring additional risks to civilian drivers and vulnerable road users. Their presence as large vehicles, often travelling at a different speed to the everyday traffic, create risks and limit visibility, but furthermore they bring with them the additional risk of enemy attacks. Under certain conditions, even the approach of a civilian car to military equipment can be considered a threat and there may be a military response.
  • Blackouts caused by attacks on infrastructure or power shortages are significantly reducing visibility of pedestrians, cyclists and other vulnerable road users creating a huge amount of additional road risk especially for children travelling to and from school on dark winter days.
  • Finally, a lack of enforcement as a consequence of other priorities for the road police, is enabling less responsible road users to take additional risks. There is significant anecdotal reporting of drivers speeding, failing to follow traffic rules or not taking sufficient care in very hazardous conditions – all making road conditions even more dangerous for everyone.

In this difficult time for Ukraine, there are many additional risks.  As a nation, we will lose many brave citizens to war – but we will also lose many more loved ones to the indirect consequences including increased road risk. However, the successful formula for ensuring road safety always remains the same in war and peace: joint efforts of authorities, public administration, police, civil society, and the international community. We will win the war and save lives on the roads but only by joint efforts.