The heartbreaking story behind National Road Safety Week

National Road Safety Week founder, Peter Frazer, standing on a street corner wearing a suit, yellow tie and matching yellow ribbon pin

Nicola Dowse

Posted May 13, 2022

Every year, more than 1,000 people lose their lives on Australia’s roads. In 2012, Sarah Frazer was one of them. This is her father's story.

National Road Safety Week founder, Peter Frazer, is fighting to make sure everyone gets home safe.

On February 15 2012, 23-year-old Sarah was on her way to start university when her car broke down on the Hume Highway, just south of Mittagong in NSW. 

Sarah had put her hazard lights on and pulled into the narrow emergency lane, which had not been built to the width laid out in Australian standards. She called her father, Peter, and left a text message when he didn’t pick up. 

An hour later, roadside assistance arrived and informed her she has a busted radiator. A tow truck was called, but Sarah was left with her vehicle. 

Trapped on a narrow emergency lane between a busy 110km highway and a bramble-lined creek, Sarah was in an incredibly vulnerable position. 

It was only 63 seconds after the tow truck had arrived, when another truck veered into the emergency lane where the tow truck driver and Sarah were parked.

Only the driver of the truck survived.

Sarah’s father Peter saw her message when he came out of a meeting at 12.35pm. She had died three minutes earlier.

A decade on and Peter Frazer continues to fight for vulnerable people on roads across Australia through the Safer Australian Roads and Highways (SARAH) Group and its keystone event, National Road Safety Week.

“She was totally dedicated to those who were not as fortunate as we are,” says Frazer. “That became the inspiration for everything that we've done to look after those who are vulnerable.”

National Road Safety Week founder, Peter Frazer, looking solemn while a tram goes pas behind him

Safer Australian Roads and Highways (SARAH) Group founder Peter Frazer. Photo: Shannon Morris.

A new beginning for SARAH

Just days after Sarah’s death, the Frazer family gathered to mourn the loss of their daughter and sister. It was then that Ben, Peter’s eldest son, suggested they do something to honour Sarah’s life and memory. “He said, ‘We have to do something in Sarah’s name’,” says Peter. “And he came up with Safer Australian Roads and Highways – SARAH.” 

“I get shivers even talking about it.” 

Today, the SARAH Group lobbies for policy and legislative changes to increase safety on roads around Australia, aiming to improve infrastructure and driver awareness and ensure everyone gets home safe.  

“The novel thing about National Road Safety Week is about how you become the advocate, and how you become the road safety champion,” Peter says. “That I look after your loved ones, and you look after mine – we effectively make this agreement within our community that we're going to look after each other.” 

The first Road Safety Week was launched on the back of a 23,000-signature petition to the NSW parliament calling for emergency lanes to be widened to the 2.5m Austroads standard, and for drivers to slow to half the posted limit and move to an adjacent lane if they see a vehicle displaying hazard lights. 

But with the petition also coinciding with Mother’s Day that year, Peter and his family wanted to acknowledge all the mothers who had lost someone. 

“We called it Yellow Ribbon Road Safety Week. We thought no one would take any interest, no one would even care about it,” says Peter.  

“What we found was there were so many people affected.” 

A symbol for safety 

The yellow ribbon, originally used in that first Road Safety Week in 2012, has gone on to be a highly recognisable symbol highlighting road safety across the nation. 

The ribbon’s iconic yellow hue – Sarah's favourite colour – has lit up the Sydney Harbour Bridge, adorned buses, been displayed in police vehicles, and illuminated landmarks across the entire country. 

Peter says that displaying a yellow ribbon in your vehicle is one the main ways you can get involved with National Road Safety Week.  

“People are making a commitment when they put that yellow ribbon on to drive so others survive. To ensure the safety of those on the road to the best of their ability.” 

But awareness is only one of the achievements the SARAH Group has made over its ten years of operation. In September 2019, the ‘Sarah’s Rule’ law was passed in NSW, meaning that drivers now must slow to 40kph when they see flashing lights, such as for accidents, police stops and for tow truck drivers in 80km zones. 

Where the speed limit is 90km or more, drivers must change lanes if safe to do so, to give plenty of space and slow to a safe and reasonable speed. Similar ‘SLOMO’ (slow down, move over) laws have also been passed in Western Australia and Victoria. In Victoria for example, drivers must slow down to 40km when passing a stationary or slow moving emergency vehicle with flashing lights or an alarm sounding. 

Advocating for improved transport infrastructure has also been a key goal for SARAH Group. Months after Sarah had died, Peter successfully lobbied the NSW government to widen the emergency lane by simply repainting the lines on the three-lane section of road (three lanes not being a safety requirement) into a two-lane road with a larger emergency lane.  

“It’s now the widest emergency lane in Australia,” Peter says. “It set a precedent.” 


The Sydney Opera House lit up yellow for National Road Safety Week

Landmarks are illuminated yellow for National Road Safety week each year. Photo: Jan Breckwoldt Photography.

More to be done to get everyone home safe

Despite the work of organisations like SARAH Group, Australia’s road toll remains stubbornly high. 

In 2012, the year that Sarah died, 1,300 people were killed on Australian roads. In 2021, 1,127 people died, including 134 pedestrians. During that ten-year period, the number of people being killed on Australian roads has consistently hovered between 1,100 and 1,200 deaths annually, and Peter says that “every week I get contacted by someone who's been seriously injured, or a loved one killed.”

He also calls for society to change the way we speak about crashes. “We [SARAH Group] don’t talk about near-misses, we talk about ‘near-hits’,” says Peter. “By changing the language, we can also change the way people think.” 

All of which is done with the ultimate goal of getting everyone – drivers, passengers, cyclists, emergency services personnel, pedestrians and roadside assistance workers – home safe. For this year’s National Road Safety Week, Peter encourages the public to visit the website and take a pledge to “drive so others survive.” You can also wear or display the recognisable yellow ribbon in your vehicle.

“I often say, this is the very last thing I want to be doing with my life,” Peter says. “But if you're going to be in this situation, make a difference.”

National Road Safety Week runs from May 15 to 22, 2022.