Jan 28, 2010

Reckless drivers can’t blame government for carnage – Opinion – The Punch

Reckless drivers can’t blame government for carnage – Opinion – The Punch

Next Wednesday the National Road Safety Council will have its inaugural meeting in Parliament House.

This initiative from Australia’s Transport Ministers is an attempt to get expert advice from around the nation to make practical suggestions aimed at reducing our road toll.

The meeting will have a sombre tone.

Sadly, the heart wrenching grief caused by road deaths visited more families last year than the year before.

The road toll in 2009 was up by almost 5 per cent to 1,509 deaths, albeit still the second lowest figure in almost 60 years and less than half the average recorded during the peak of the 1970’s (3,798).

Every loss of life on our roads is a tragedy, and my thoughts and condolences go out to the families that have lost loved ones.

While tougher laws, improved driver training, better road design, extensive education campaigns and new vehicle technologies have done much to reduce road deaths over the last three decades, motorists themselves appear to be a major obstacle to a further significant reduction in the road toll.

The latest annual survey of community attitudes, which was released only a fortnight ago, found that while most are well informed about road safety matters and support the efforts of police to catch those that break the law, the personal conduct of many leaves a lot to be desired.

While no one is perfect, far too many of us are still regularly engaging in risky behaviour such as speeding, driving under the influence, driving distracted and driving while tired.

The survey of 1,615 Australians, conducted by the Social Research Centre, found:

  •  One in four respondents (25 per cent) consider it acceptable to speed ‘if you are driving safely’;
  •  16 per cent of respondents had fallen asleep at the wheel, with a disturbingly large proportion of these (43 per cent) having done so more than once;
  •  6 per cent of respondents – and 11 per cent of those younger than 25 – ‘always, nearly always or mostly’ drive at least 10 km/h over the speed limit;
  •  4 per cent of respondents – or 1 in 25 – thought it was likely they had driven while over the blood alcohol limit at least once within the past 12 months.

Sadly, just hours after the release of the survey, the devastating news of the death of 5 young Australians in a car crash in Mill Park in Victoria was relayed around the nation. Police have found the vehicle was travelling over 140 kilometres per hour and the driver registered a 0.19 blood alcohol reading.

The impact of this crash on those families directly affected is hard to comprehend.

Whilst the dangers of speeding and driving under the influence of alcohol have been the subject of campaigns for a long time, new technologies are creating new challenges.

Three in five drivers say they use their mobile phone while driving, up from 47% just four years ago.

This worrying trend has occurred despite almost universal support for current laws banning the use of hand held mobiles and a high level of awareness that making and receiving calls or texting increases a motorist’s chances of being involved in a crash.

According to British research mobile phone use affects a driver’s ability to react to dangerous situations, making them four times more likely to have a crash.

As we become a more mobile and wireless society, we can’t afford to ignore the impact new technology can have on road safety. Every time you take your eyes off the road – even for a few seconds – to type or read a text message you are putting yourself and the lives of others in danger.

For our part, the Rudd Government has moved quickly since being elected a little over two years ago, to put in place a number of important new road safety initiatives.

This has included more than doubling the roads budget, with extra money to fix dangerous black spots on local roads, install boom gates at high risk level crossings, and build additional rest stops for truck drivers. On top of that we’ve quadrupled investment in rail in an effort to get more people and freight off our roads and onto rail.

We have also introduced new regulations requiring Electronic Stability Control (ESC) to be fitted to all new models of passenger vehicles from November 2011. This is the most significant technological change since seat belts with the potential to reduce a motorist’s chances of being involved in a fatal accident by 25 per cent.

Along with the Australian Automobile Association we have introduced Keys2Drive – a new, innovative road safety program which will provide more than 200,000 free driving lessons to learner drivers and their parents.

Together these initiatives will help construct better roads, train smarter drivers and build safer vehicles.

But ultimately Governments can only do so much.

All of us need to take greater responsibility for our own personal conduct when behind the wheel.