It’s important to think about the big picture when it comes road safety, taking into account not just individual decisions, but the system as a whole.
About 1,200 Australians die on our roads every year and 44,000 are seriously injured, costing the economy an estimated $30 billion.
The human cost – in deaths, serious injuries and lasting disabilities – is immeasurable.
You may have thought that if we all just avoided the ‘fatal five’ top risks when getting behind the wheel, a safe drive for all could be guaranteed. If we all just avoided speeding, not wearing seat belts, alcohol and drugs, distraction and fatigue then we could solve the problem of road trauma.
But humans are not perfect, and we will continue to make mistakes. That’s why it’s important to think about the big picture when it comes road safety, taking into account not just individual decisions, but the system as a whole.
Safe system: roads, cars and people
The ‘safe system’ approach moves beyond blaming the individual road user for making a mistake to a shared responsibility among all those designing and using the transport system. We need to manage the system in such a way that when crashes happen, they do not lead to death or serious injury.
One way to do this is to build safer roads. This is not simply about building new roads, or identifying particular ‘black spots’, but about making sure that all road improvements are engineered to high standards, with safety considerations built in from the start.
Infrastructure programs dedicated to road safety will also help lift the standard of our road network. The AAA has called on the Australian Government to provide financial incentives to state and territory governments that appropriately deliver and report on agreed road safety actions.
For example, the recent federal Budget includes a new $2 billion Road Safety Program estimated to deliver 3,000 kilometres of life-saving road improvements. These small-scale projects will include upgrades such as wire rope safety barriers that can reduce crashes caused by vehicles running off the road or swerving into the wrong lane. They could also involve rumble strips to alert drivers and riders that they are moving out of their lane, reflective signage, new shoulder sealing, and median treatments to prevent head-on collisions.
Another way to improve safety is to reduce the age of vehicles on our roads. Newer cars are safer cars and older cars are disproportionately involved in fatal crashes. It’s been estimated that one third of the reduction in Australia’s road toll can be put down just to the use of safer vehicles. So efforts to reduce the average age of the vehicle fleet in Australia are also important in reducing road trauma.
The 2020 ABS Motor Vehicle Census shows that the average age of passenger cars in Australia –currently at 10.1 years – has been rising over the last five years. This is a worrying trend and the AAA has recommended the Government set targets for reducing the age of the fleet and create initiatives to meet them.
Initiatives such as the Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) have an important role in improving the safety standards of vehicles sold in Australia. ANCAP awards a star rating to indicate the level of safety a vehicle provides for occupants and pedestrians in the event of a crash, as well as the performance of driver assistance systems and collision avoidance technology.
It’s the responsibility of road users to comply with the law and avoid the fatal five. However, many others, such as road authorities, police forces, politicians, vehicle manufacturers and freight companies all contribute to a safe transport system.
The overarching goal of the safe system is ‘vision zero’ – even when crashes do happen, they should not lead to death or serious injury. Australia has a stated aim of meeting this target by 2050.
Ultimately road safety is not just a transport problem. It’s also about the attitudes and culture of individuals, families, communities, workplaces and organisations. We can all be champions for safety in these various settings and influence those around us to do the right thing.
Road safety is everyone’s responsibility.
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