Road toll spike: Road safety must be top priority

After an appalling year for road deaths in 2016, RACV says it’s hugely disappointing 2017 has started on bad note and is reminding all road users of their safety responsibilities.

There have been nine fatalities to date this year, compared with seven at the same time last year and this on top of a 16 per cent jump in the annual road toll in 2016.

RACV is calling for increased investment in making roads safer and incentives to enable more people to get a safer car, said General Manager Public Policy, Brian Negus.

"Last year 292 people lost their lives and it is shameful to see a horror start to 2017. Much more needs to be done to reverse this tragic trend.

“RACV is urging everyone to ensure they drive safely and especially don’t get distracted by mobile phones when driving.”

RACV welcomed the Victorian Government’s commitment to making 2017 Victoria’s year of action against road fatalities, through its $1.2 billion Towards Zero Action Plan but said road safety improvements must remain the top priority.

More than 330km of flexible roadside barriers and other life-saving infrastructure is to be installed on high risk, high volume 100km/hour roads this year to reduce run-off-road and head-on crashes.

“Completing the installation of flexible roadside barriers along sections of roads such as Goulburn Valley Highway, Princes Highway, Hume Freeway, the M80, Hume Freeway and Calder Freeway is a step in the right direction.

“Given the loss of motorcyclists’ lives, there is also a need to include motorcycle rider protection measures in old and new barriers as standard.

“The biggest increase in road fatalities and serious injuries in 2016 was in metropolitan Melbourne, but more people still died or were seriously injured on regional roads,” Mr Negus said.

The Australian Road Assessment Program (AusRAP) assesses the safety star rating of selected major highways on a scale of 1 to 5. RACV previous research has shown that eliminating 1 and 2-star highways on the State’s major country highway network at a cost of $600 million is estimated to save at least 2,800 people from serious injury or death on these roads over the next 20 years.

RACV wants the State and Federal governments to commit to a four-year program of safety upgrades to eliminate the 1 and 2-star sections of these highways using shoulder sealing, rumble strips, barriers and safer overtaking opportunities.

“In recent years we have seen a dramatic decline in maintenance of rural highways and this  is clearly increasing safety risks on these roads,” Mr Negus said.

An RACV-commissioned independent expert review of the condition of Victoria's road network, released in November last year, found that the network is grossly underfunded and a record amount of roads and highways are in a distressed condition.

“Our review found that while there has been some increase in funding, the degradation of our rural network continues. On average seven per cent – or about 1,400km – of the regional road network is in what VicRoads deems to be a ‘distressed’ condition.  In some areas of the state it is reportedly higher than 15 per cent.

“In 2017, RACV will be pushing even harder to make sure funding is made available to restore Victoria’s rural roads and to put in place a sustainable forward program.”

Mr Negus said RACV would also continue to advocate for better safety systems based on smart technologies developed by vehicle manufacturers.

“We know that crash avoidance and warning systems have a dramatic effect on reducing the likelihood and severity of crashes. These smart technologies should be made available in all cars across the range and Government’s need to mandate the fitting of these life-saving devices,” he said.

Mr Negus said RACV would like to see State and Federal governments work together to provide solid incentives for drivers, especially new and younger drivers to purchase safer cars.

“At a state level, discounted registration fees should be considered as part of an overall campaign to entice new and young drivers to buy the safest vehicle they can afford when they are in the market for a car,” he said.

Mr Negus said it was critical that all drivers and riders recognise that they have enormous responsibility to practice safe habits on the road.

 “Most of us abhor excessive speeding and drink and drug driving, but many could probably afford to wipe off five, avoid that extra drink, don’t use illegal drugs and make a commitment not to use the mobile phone while driving.

“Social media users told us that some of things they would try to improve in 2017 include checking the mirrors and buckling up before reversing out of their driveway, exercising more patience with other road users, using cruise control to stay within the speed limit and leaving more space between their car and vehicles in front, and also when passing riders.

“I would urge everyone to consider if there are similar small changes that they can make to reduce the risk of injury or death to themselves, their family or friends, or other road users. We just would not want to see a repeat of the tragic 2016 year on the roads.

“However, people do make mistakes and that’s why we need better roads and safer cars and RACV will continue to advocate that governments have a critical role in improving road safety.”

Mr Negus urged both the Federal and State Government to focus further attention on road safety as they prepare their budgets for the next three to four years.

“Whilst road safety is a key responsibility for individuals, governments must step up and find ways to increase funding for safer roads and incentives for vehicle safety programs.”

TAC statistics show that in Victoria, the 2016 road toll included:

  • 150 drivers (up 23 per cent from 122) and 36 passengers (down 21 per cent from 57);
  • 56 motorcyclists (an increase of 87 per cent from 30);
  • 42 pedestrians (an increase of 27 per cent from 33); and
  • 8 cyclists (a decrease of 20 per cent from 10, compared to 2015).
Written by Lynette Keogh, RACV Public Affairs, 9790 2572
January 17, 2017