Trauma surgeon wants national black spot program scrapped

A LEADING road safety expert has labelled the national black spot program a “band-aid” road safety solution that ought to be scrapped.

Dr John Crozier, the co-chairman of a Federal government review of the National Road Safety strategy and a vascular and trauma surgeon, also claimed inertia by successive governments had contributed to the rising number of road deaths.

Dr Crozier said it was already clear the strategy would fail to meet its 2020 target of reducing the annual numbers of deaths and serious injuries on Australian roads by at least 30 per cent.

"There are 44,000 [people hospitalised after a vehicle crash] each year in Australia. We accept that as the price to travel on our road system. It's got to stop, we can't keep doing this," Dr Crozier said.

In NSW, 28 people died in car crashes during the Christmas and New Year period – double that of the same period a year ago.  Annual NSW road deaths also rose for a second consecutive year (to 392) despite a $300-million road safety budget announced last financial year.

Dr Crozier said the abolition of the Federal Office of Road Safety in 1999 was in large part to blame for federal government complacency on road safety [The responsibilities of the Office of Road Safety were moved to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau and other government agencies].

“[It was] an independent body of subject matter experts, who would provide without fear or favour advice to the federal government,” he said. “There is an inertia … For about 20 years we have been coasting.”

Dr Crozier said the black spot program, which targets road locations where crashes are occurring, was ineffective, and funding should be redirected to improving whole road corridors.

“It's a flawed concept to wait until you've got hot spots of fatalities and serious injury before you then throw a band-aid at fixing that bit of road,” he said. “We've got to get well past waiting for death or serious injury before we do something about it. We have to be much more proactive.”

In November, then federal infrastructure and transport minister Darren Chester announced a Roads to Recovery Statement of Expectations which will require councils to provide additional information on the safety benefits and outcomes of each project, with this being a condition of future funding.  

Responding to Dr Crozier’s comments, Mr Chester said he regretted not having pushed road safety harder when he was the minister.

“Our state ministers and our federal bureaucrats are too timid in their response to road safety, and I encouraged them to take a bolder outlook and more innovative approaches, because too many people are being killed and injured on our roads,” he said. 

The inquiry being co-chaired by Dr Crozier and associate professor Jeremy Woolley, who is director of the Centre for Automotive Safety Research at the University of Adelaide, is due to report in April.