OPINION: Why are we immune to the horror of road toll?
OPINION, Andrew McKenzie - Maurice Blackburn Lawyers
IT IS the awful truth that as a society we have become immune to the horror of the road toll and just seem to think these deaths are an acceptable part of our daily commute.
Every year around 1200 people die on Australian roads and thousands upon thousands more are injured in road accidents. If all those deaths happened at the one time, in one incident, we would be outraged and demand change.
It is not just an awful traumatic event for the family and friends of the person that dies or is injured in a car accident, the statistics show the impact of those hurt on our roads costs the Australian economy about $28 billion every year.
If we are not prepared to address the road toll crisis in order to save lives, or on behalf of the families left behind, then let's just imagine what we could do in this country with $28 billion?
Many people don't know about how road deaths drive up the cost of living for all of us. There are the additional pressures on our hospitals (50% of catastrophic injuries are from road accidents), extra drain on Medicare, Centrelink and the Pharmecutical Benefits Scheme. Our insurance costs rise with every accident for property damage, CTP insurance, income and temporary permanent disability cover, and private medical insurance.
There's a flow on effect to every Australian. This is why we need to join together to find a renewed sense of urgency to fix this situation and to institute positive change to make our roads safer, not only to save lives but make this a better place to live.
The National Road Safety Strategy 2011-2020 is an initiative of Australia's federal, state and territory governments that aims to reduce serious and fatal injury crashes on our roads. It's a good plan with a goal to reduce the number of deaths on our roads by 30% from 2010 to 2020 - the "decade of action". But the crazy thing is, even if we reach that goal, we're still accepting that 900 people will die on our roads every year. That's frightening.
Always in road safety there are "triggers" that make a significant reduction in the road toll. For example when mandatory seatbelts were introduced we saw a drop in the deaths. Likewise with the .05 drink driving limit, lives were saved virtually overnight.
A likely next "trigger" to reduce death and injury on our roads will be driverless cars. However that kind of widely available technology in the car market is still years away. Should it take another decade for driverless cars to become the universal form of transport, this will mean another 11,000 people will have lost their lives. That has to be an unacceptable figure.
So what can we do now? Undoubtedly, it's a huge and multifaceted problem but there are some areas we could focus on -
- Leadership: we have some decent hardworking people in the road safety space but it would be a positive step if the federal government followed the lead of the Qld Government and appointed a National Road Safety Minister.
- Seatbelts: it beggars belief that people are still dying on our roads because they don't wear seatbelts. The laws regarding seatbelts have been around for decades, yet people refuse to buckle up.
- Alcohol: the number of alcohol-related crashes and deaths on our roads is still ridiculously high. This points more to an overarching alcohol problem than a driving problem. Early identification and rehabilitation or enforcement of problem drinkers who are constantly in our court system would be a great first step.
- Speed: nobody likes receiving a speeding ticket in the mail but speed is a factor in over 20% of deaths. A cultural change in encouraging people to drive below the speed limit would make a significant difference.
- Drug driving: statistics from police testing on those with drugs in the system is frightening. 1 in every 6 people tested are showing a positive result.
- Distracted driving: Don't drive while looking at your mobile phone.
We must no longer accept road deaths as part of the price we pay for travel - let's instead move forward with purpose and a commitment to making significant and drastic change.
Let's do it for our families and for a better future.