President’s column

UNLESS you’ve experienced road trauma first-hand, it’s easy to imagine this is something that happens to “other people”.

To hear Gary Dolman talk about road trauma at last week’s COAG Transport and Infrastructure Council meeting in Hobart was to grasp immediately that we, as owners of 73 percent of the nation‘s road length, must acknowledge our responsibilities in tackling the unacceptable loss of life and serious injuries occurring on our roads.

Dr Dolman is head of the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics, and in his presentation to the Council on the rural/urban distribution of road trauma said that local roads – those in regional and remote areas – account for 66 per cent of deaths.

While fatal crash numbers are gradually declining nationwide as a proportion of population, Dr Dolman said the rate of decrease in the localities was slower than it was in urban centres. Moreover, the number of fatalities on metro and regional roads have increased in number recently, reversing a long-term downwards trend.

It is clear that we need to do more. All of us.  

Since the 1970s, when random road-side breath-tests were introduced and it became mandatory for motorists to wear seat belts, governments have directed considerable energy and resources towards lowering the road toll.

The National Road Strategy 2011-2020 is one manifestation of that collective national effort. And the results have been commendable. Annual fatalities per 100,000 people are now significantly lower than they were in the 1960s and ’70s, Statistically, however, Australia still trails France, the United Kingdom, Germany and other equally car-dependent countries.

One probably explanation for this is Australia’s vast size, the long distances that separate towns and cities, and the tendency of drivers to push on even while fatigued. Which is why the draft National Road Safety Action Plan calls for a national remote road-user safety strategy.

It’s no small undertaking. Targeted spending, road infrastructure standards and investment, licencing and training, vehicle safety standards, accident assessment methodologies and speed limits – all these and more must be assessed, discussed, be agreed upon, and then mandated if we’re to lower the road toll, particularly in the regions.

The Transport and Infrastructure Council’s renewed commitment to a remote road-user safety strategy which will require a collective approach. I used the opportunity in Hobart to urge State and Territory Ministers to engage with Local Government, to share the fatality and serious injury data, the locations of accidents, and the full range of solutions. Only by working together, as leaders of our communities, will we find the best and safest solutions. 

The Federal Government’s recent decision to link future Roads to Recovery program funding to positive safety outcomes will concentrate minds. But if they do it right, councils may be able to argue more forcefully for increased R2R or Black Spot program funding.

The ultimate goal, however, is ensuring our local communities that every journey they begin on our shared road network will lead to a safe arrival – and we have a lot of work to do to achieve this. .

Let's stop the finger-pointing, shoulder our share of the responsibility, and work with our communities and their three levels of government to get it done.

David O'Loughlin,