Despite the COVID-19 travel restrictions imposed on Victorians since March this year, the Transport Accident Commission (TAC) has already recorded a death toll on Victorian roads of 129 as at early August 2020. The state Government has introduced a number of initiatives aimed at improving road safety but is there more that can be done?
Some salient figures for lives lost on Victorian roads
With less than 4 months before the year ends, the current death toll is concerning as it’s likely to increase. In 2019, the death toll was 167 compared to the 115 lives lost on the road in 2018, with the 5-year average (2015–2019) death toll being 148. Prior to the 2019 spike in deaths, there was a steady downward trend in fatalities on Victorian roads.
TAC statistics also showed that:
Victorian Government conducted a parliamentary inquiry
In response to the rise in fatalities on Victorian roads last year, the Victorian government conducted a parliamentary inquiry to consider the potential factors contributing to the increase. They looked at factors including:
- the effectiveness of current drug and alcohol testing;
- the impact of smart phones usage whilst driving;
- speed limits and its enforcement; and
- the role of road standards and maintenance of Victorian roads.
Unsurprisingly, the parliamentary inquiry found that speeding, alcohol and drug driving, distraction, fatigue and failure to wear seatbelts were all common contributing factors to the increased road toll. Speed was a factor in 22 per cent of crashes and approximately 20 percent of crashes involved fatigue.
The TAC’s Lead Director Road Safety Samantha Cockfield says:
“we know how the crashes are happening and on the whole and why”; and
“we also know the actions we to need to take to address most of the fatalities on Victorian roads. But we’re not perfect. We don’t yet have all the answers and must continue to invest in ways of tackling the problem.”
Reducing the death toll on Victorian roads
The TAC’s objective is to build a system that protects road users from their own mistakes as well as the mistakes of others. In partnership with the TAC, VicRoads has incorporated safe system principles into all of their road safety upgrade projects across Victoria.
Making Victoria’s regional roads safer
To make roads safer in regional Victoria, the Victorian government announced this year that they plan to install 1600 kilometres of rumble strip line-markings and 340 kilometres of new safety barriers on the state’s roads.
This adds to the 2300 kilometres of safety barriers already installed. However, senior policy analyst at Roads Australia, Emily McLean says that
“…it would take over 1000 years to upgrade every road to an acceptable safety standard – or we could act immediately to make roads safer by reviewing speed limits.”
This sentiment of reducing speed limits did not fall on deaf ears.
In an effort to reduce speeding on Victoria roads, the Labour Government committed over $120 million dollars to increase mobile speed camera enforcement by 75 per cent last year. To do this, a new fleet of state-of-the-art mobile road safety cameras is currently being rolled out at more locations across Victoria. Additionally, the Victorian Police have been given greater powers which now enable them to give on-the-spot license suspensions for excessive speeding.
What more can be done?
Although the above initiatives are admirable, some may say that the Victorian government could do more to ensure Victorian roads are safer.
For example, earlier this year, the New South Wales government sought to minimise driver distraction on the roads by introducing world-first mobile phone detection cameras, capable of photographing drivers using their phones while driving.
It may be too early to tell whether this new technology will actually improve driver’s behaviour and reduce accidents arising from driver distraction. It does, however, put drivers on notice that they need to be more accountable for their own safety as well as the safety of others whilst driving on the road.
Road users have a responsibility too
It’s unrealistic for road users to wholly rely on the government to ensure their safety on our roads. The Victorian government can only do so much to improve the infrastructure and to enforce penalties for unsafe driving habits and road use.
It is the culture and mindset around road safety that also needs to improve amongst all road users. Road safety education is a crucial part of the ‘reducing transport accident fatalities’ equation. When well informed about road safety, road users can be empowered to play a bigger part in their own safety and that of others on the road, which in turn will contribute to the reduction in fatalities on our roads.
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