Op-ed: Drive to Improve State's Poor Record on Road
Thursday 19 August 2021, The Examiner
For much of the past couple of months, road safety has been on the minds of many. As of the end of July, our road toll stood at 20 lives – a rate of one death every ten days. By anyone’s measure, that is far too many. No one should die in the process of getting from one point to another.
But statisticians will tell you that driving is an inherently risky activity. According to the RACT, on average, 300 people are killed or seriously injured on Tasmanian roads each year. The World Health Organisation describes road safety and traffic injuries as a public health issue: ‘they involve massive costs to often overburdened health care systems, occupy scarce hospital beds, consume resources and result in significant losses of productivity and prosperity with deep social and economic repercussions’.
The WHO states that traffic deaths are the number one cause of death of those aged between 15-29, with 1.25 million deaths, globally, every year. Three out of four deaths are men. Nearly half are vulnerable road users: pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists. It is a terrible way to lose one’s life and even more so, because it is so meaningless and tragic.
Here in Tasmania, we perform particularly poorly. The RACT states that we have the worst road safety record of any state. We have 6.6 deaths for every 100,000 people. Compare this with Victoria (the best performing state) with 3.17 deaths per 100,000 people.
The multiplier effect of fatalities and casualties on our roads is significant. The loss of one life is too many and the hole it leaves in the families and communities that are left behind can’t ever be fully patched up. Those who are lucky to survive car-related injuries are often in for large amounts of time off work, away from family, painful, expensive and ongoing therapies and the mental turmoil and anguish that comes along with experiencing such a traumatic event.
Our first responders are subject to horrific sights, with it factoring into the stress and strain on police, fire and paramedic staff. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety and general psychological distress are major factors in first responders needing to take time away from work, or leaving altogether.
I cannot be the only one wondering: what on earth is going on? What can we do to fix this?
Cars are safer now than they have ever been. Advances in safety features, improved seatbelts, airbags, sensors and the introduction of the Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) safety rating system empowers drivers more than ever to make sensible choices for their car purchases. We pay more than ever in insurance, Motor Accident Insurance Board levies and registration.
Tasmania Police are frequently nabbing poor, unsafe and unlawful drivers. The Department of Police, Fire and Emergency Management Annual Report for the 2019-20 year yields the following statistics: 1,638 drivers not wearing their seatbelts, 2,070 using their phone while driving, 2,657 on drugs, 1,542 drink drivers and, astonishingly, 36,719 speeders.
Police of course focus on the fatal five: speeding, distraction, drink/drug driving, non-use of seatbelts and fatigue. These all significantly contribute to fatal and serious crashes in Tasmania, with speed being a factor in 29 per cent of such events, and distraction and drink/drug driving factoring in 24 per cent each.
In the 2020 RACT Member Survey, road maintenance and road infrastructure investment were the top two concerns. It is, however, undeniable that our roads are vastly improved from what they were even just ten years ago. Yet our serious crashes and fatalities don’t seem to be commensurately falling.
There are clearly plenty of factors that need to be considered when we look at our road safety records.
In June, I tabled a motion in the Legislative Council to begin a Select Inquiry into Road Safety in Tasmania. This passed unanimously and myself, as the Inquiry Chair, Tania Rattray MLC, Jo Palmer MLC and Bastian Seidel MLC, will be looking into this issue.
But we need your help. Public submissions for this inquiry are still open and you still have time to have your say. What do you think are the causes of our poor road safety record? What can we do to fix it? How can we manage this into the future?
Submissions will close on Friday 27th August with information available on the Parliament website, or call my office 63242000.
The more information and ideas we have, the better the outcomes will be for our inquiry and for our state’s road safety future. It is so important that the public engages with this inquiry.
After August we will move to the public hearing and finding stages. Whilst I cannot surmise what our findings and recommendations will be, what I do know is that we can no longer afford to do nothing. Lives depend on it.