This year, let’s not accept road tolls as normal
As we embark on another busy holiday period on our roads, I’m reminded of a tragic story.
It was late at night. A car ran a red light and an innocent family was in trouble.
As a police officer, I was one of the first on the scene. The father had died on impact in the car. The mother – who was given CPR by ambulance officers – also died at the scene.
Their three young boys, ranging in age from 18 months to five years old, were injured and orphaned.
It was a terrible scene, and a pretty confronting one for a 19 year old police officer. But what stayed with me was not just the crash scene and the terrible losses. It was the aftermath.
The boys not only lost their parents, but three to four years later they were still dealing with their injuries.
As the legal process over their injuries continued, the eldest who was now eight years old still had callipers – big steel pole frames – on his legs. It was painful for the boy and also socially difficult. He couldn’t interact normally with friends and also carried a stigma about being different.
There’s no doubt Australia has made great strides in road safety, and our approach has changed a lot since I was a 19-year-old rookie.
Compulsory wearing of seatbelts, random breath testing, introduction of electronic stability control in vehicles, graduated licensing, more roadside barriers and speed limit reductions – just to name a few initiatives – have all had an impact.
The problem is, we’ve come to accept that there will be a road toll.
Media attention on road deaths tends to peak in holiday times. Tragically, in the past five years, 113 people have died over the Easter holiday period, 14 of those in 2010.
But road deaths aren’t confined to holiday periods. On average, four people die and 80 people are seriously injured on Australian roads every day.
The National Road Safety Council (NRSC) is passionate about reducing the unacceptably high numbers of road crashes in Australia.
We call them road crashes, not accidents, because much of the time, they’re avoidable.
Apart from causing incalculable suffering for families and friends of the victims, road crashes cost the Australian economy $27 billion a year.
Australia is about to make a significant change in the way we approach road safety. It’s a change that the National Road Safety Council applauds.
The new Safe System approach recognises that we all make mistakes.
This approach is the cornerstone of the proposed National Road Safety Strategy 2011-2020, which will be released by the Australian Transport Council in the coming months.
This approach takes into account the way vehicles, roads and people interact with each other.
It recognises that while people need to be responsible for driving safely, we need to create a system that means a mistake on the road doesn’t result in death or serious injury.
In formal terms the Safe System approach means that we make sure vehicles and traffic management systems are designed to account for normal human error, with support through education and enforcement to manage misbehaviour.
For our families, our sons and daughters, and friends – in fact anyone on our roads – it’s about making sure people are as safe they can be: by influencing the way they drive, the safety of the car they drive, the safety of the road they’re driving on, and the speed they drive.
As someone who talks frequently with parents of road safety victims, I’m determined in my support of this significant change in the way we approach road safety nationally.
Not only to save lives and reduce serious road related injuries, but to stop the burden of grief that road victim’s families take with them to their grave.
And as the holiday exodus on the roads approaches, it’s a timely reminder about the challenges of road safety.
While we sometimes might find the solutions an imposition, we all want to make sure we arrive at our destination safely.
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