Emergency services attend the scene of a horrific crash in December 2011, which claimed the life of teenager Jordan Page.
Emergency services attend the scene of a horrific crash in December 2011, which claimed the life of teenager Jordan Page.

Lowest road toll in 65 years

THE national road toll last year fell to its lowest level since 1946, when Australia's population was one-third the size it is today and the three-point seatbelt was still more than a decade away.

According to figures released by the Department of Transport there were 1292 deaths recorded on Australian roads, a decrease of 10.9 per cent over the past five years and down 4.4 per cent compared with 2010.

Weekends were still the most dangerous times behind the wheel, with an average of 4.6 deaths per day compared to the weekday average of 2.6 deaths per day (481 deaths on weekends versus 685 on weekdays).

Deaths of young road users aged 17 to 25 were down by the greatest amount; 17 per cent nationally (279 in 2011 compared to 336 in 2010).

But older road users are becoming increasingly at risk.

Deaths of road users aged 70 and over increased by 13 per cent (from 167 in 2010 to 189 in 2011) and accounted for 15 per cent of all fatalities.

The latest figures showed NSW had a shocking month in December, recording 40 deaths compared to 25 in the same month the previous year.

However, the NSW road toll for 2011 was down by 7.2 per cent (to 376 deaths) whereas Victoria, which has widespread use of hidden speed cameras, did not record a reduction in road deaths.

Queensland, which also uses covert speed cameras, recorded an 8 per cent increase in road deaths, although it was the second-lowest figure for the state since reliable records began in 1952.

Pedestrians accounted for 14.6 per cent of all road deaths and motorcyclists accounted for 15.4 per cent of fatalities.

The chief executive of the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries, Ian Chalmers, says four years of record new-car sales had put safer cars on the roads.

"There are a number of factors that contribute to a reduction in the road toll," he told the Herald.

"But right at the top of list is the massive improvements in motor vehicle safety."

He said the majority of new cars that went on sale last year had five-star safety ratings and were equipped with between two and nine airbags.

Furthermore, in 2011 it became compulsory for passenger vehicles to be equipped with stability control.

Regarded as the next step in safety after the seatbelt, stability control can prevent a skid in corners by cutting engine power and/or applying the brakes.

Chalmers said upgrades to roads also made a "substantial" contribution to the reduction in road deaths, as did better training of and tougher restrictions on younger drivers.

"However, no-one should be complacent," he said.

"The task of making cars safer will never end.

"We've made huge progress in the past 10 years and we will continue to make improvements [to vehicle safety]."

Commsec this week issued a report that said new-car affordability is the best it has been in 35 years because of higher wages, and prices discounted by the strong Australian dollar and intense competition.

New-car sales in four of the last five years have eclipsed the 1 million mark and the industry is predicting the same result this year.

The most recent Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows the average age of cars has dipped to below 10 years for the first time in more than two decades.

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