Opinion

Let’s reset our approach to road safety

It’s an obvious statement to make but I’ll make it again and again because it’s glaringly true: We all want safer roads. It doesn’t matter if you’re a truck driver, motorist, emergency services first responder, nurse, or doctor.

Australia had a horrific road safety outcome in 2023.  For the full year, deaths rose seven per cent on 2022 levels to hit 1266. The last six months of 2023 proved the deadliest in 13 years. The National Road Safety Strategy aims to reduce annual deaths by at least 50 percent by 2030.

We are not on track to meet that target. Instead, we’re going backwards.

The introduction of minimum standards for road freight operators, and ending practices that impose unrealistic deadlines on truck drivers at the expense of safety, will make a profound difference. In the immediate term, there are other things that need to happen – now.

NatRoad has long called for the standardisation of the way road crash data is collated across the states and territories, and the sharing of it.

At the time of writing, we were heartened by Federal Transport Minister Catherine King flagging a national data sharing agreement is finally being put in place. You can’t plan for what you can’t measure and having nationally consistent data will be a massive step in the right direction.

NatRoad is already engaging closely with key partners on the data, and causes of heavy vehicle related crashes, to ensure our own policy priorities and advocacy is evidence based.

NatRoad has repeatedly backed calls for no fault heavy vehicle crash investigations to improve the data and understanding of underlying causes of crashes. This would not replace existing police crash investigations and only occur where there may be a safety lesson to be learnt.

This is already a critical part of the way the Australian Transport Safety Bureau investigates other transport modes.

Governments need to take a long, hard look at the evidence about the causes of road crashes and reset our approach to road safety. Of course, preventing road trauma is more than just numbers.

NatRoad has long advocated Australia needs a better on-road culture. Embedding greater respect for heavy vehicles and their place on the road is an integral part of this. Light vehicle drivers need better education and training in basic on-road behaviour. Things like leaving enough space for heavy vehicles to steer around obstacles and brake safely.

So, let’s make heavy vehicle awareness a mandatory part of license testing in every jurisdiction.

Let’s educate our kids in schools, before they go anywhere near a driving instructor, that they share the road with heavy vehicles and other road users.

In addition, improving road design is a no-brainer. Road safety for all Australians is why NatRoad continually calls for governments to build better roads and make infrastructure funding more effective.

*Warren Clark is CEO of NatRoad

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