The five bad driving habits Victorians just can’t break

Lamp post memorial with flowers

Sue Hewitt

Posted May 17, 2021


As Victoria’s road toll starts to climb again, safety experts say the same five factors are to blame.

As more and more Victorians return to the road, so too do the bad driving habits that are leading to a spike in the state’s road toll.

While Victoria has led the world in road safety in many ways, including pioneering mandatory seatbelts and electronic stability control, RACV senior safety policy adviser Elvira Lazar says certain risky driving behaviours remain stubbornly entrenched among some drivers.

Transport Accident Commission figures for the past 10 years reveal that the same five fatal driving mistakes feature prominently in the state’s serious crash statistics: speed, alcohol and drugs, distraction, not wearing a seatbelt and fatigue.

So how do we change driver behaviour?

To mark National Road Safety Week this week (16 to 23 May), Australian drivers are being asked to make a pledge to “choose to drive so others survive”.

So far more than 41,000 people have made the pledge to: drive as if their loved ones are on the road ahead; to remove all distractions and never use a phone while driving; to not put other people at risk by speeding or driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs; and to protect all vulnerable road users by slowing down and giving them the space they need to be safe. 

The campaign, backed by Safer Australian Roads and Highways (SARAH) and the Australian Automobile Association (AAA) among others, comes as 90 lives have been lost on the state’s roads so far this year. It’s estimated that for every one of those killed, a further 30 are hospitalised. 

Here’s what we know about the five biggest causes of road fatalities and what we can do to change entrenched risky behaviour.


The five biggest killers on Victoria’s roads

Speed  

Despite decades of public awareness messages, increasing numbers of speed cameras and the threat of loss of licence, speeding remains one of the top killers on our roads, and is a contributing factor in about a third of all road deaths in Victoria. 

“There’s been no significant reduction in the number of fines issued over the past few years and it’s devastating that the message about speed isn’t resonating with many Victorian drivers,” RACV’s Elvira Lazar says.

The Transport Accident Commission’s road safety director Samantha Cockfield says in the split second it takes for a crash to occur, excessive speed can mean the difference between life and death or serious injury. 

Samantha says the key to convincing drivers to slow down lies in fines and loss of licence demerit points. 

Speed is a contributing factor in about one third of all road fatalities and drivers are are 10 times more likely to crash if they text, browse or email on their phone. Photo: Getty
Speed is a contributing factor in about one third of all road fatalities and drivers are are 10 times more likely to crash if they text, browse or email on their phone. Photo: Getty

Alcohol and illicit drugs 

Driving under the influence of drugs has overtaken drink-driving as a cause of fatal and serious injury crashes, says Samantha. In the past five years, about 40 per cent of drivers and motorcyclists killed on the roads had drugs in their system.

She believes roadside drug testing is an effective deterrent to drug-driving and says the TAC is working with Victoria Police to expand the program. 

While illicit drugs have emerged as a growing danger on the roads, drink-driving continues to claim lives, with one in five drivers and motorcyclists killed having a blood-alcohol level over the legal limit of 0.05.

Distraction

Driver distraction is a contributing factor in about one in five crashes and at least 250 people lost their lives on Victorian roads due to distraction in the past five years. 

“If you use a mobile phone your crash risk increases astronomically,” says Samantha. “You are 10 times more likely to crash if you text, browse or email on your phone.” 

She says taking your eyes off the road for four seconds while travelling at 100kmh is effectively like driving 110 metres blindfolded. 

Victorian authorities plan to roll out driver-distraction cameras over the next two years after a three-month trial in 2020 detected one in 42 drivers illegally using a mobile phone. 

Woman yawning while driving

Fatigue is a factor in one in five fatal crashes and 300 serious injuries each year. Photo: Getty


 

Seatbelts

Victoria led the world introducing mandatory seatbelt laws in 1970, which globally has been found to halve the risk of death and injury. But already this year, 15 people who have died on the state’s roads were not wearing a seatbelt

“It should be second nature to every driver and passenger to wear a seatbelt and it is the easiest road-safety issue to overcome,” says Elvira.  

Samantha anticipates some positive shift in behaviour as older cars are replaced with newer models which all have inbuilt warning systems that sound an alert when someone is not wearing a seatbelt. 

“The next step will be technology that stops the car from moving or limits it to 10kmh if the seatbelts are not used,” she says.

Fatigue

Fatigue is a factor in one in five fatal crashes and 300 serious injuries each year. Yet the TAC says 37 per cent of people admit to driving when tired and estimates that 1.6 million Victorians drive when fatigued each year. 

“It’s so tempting to keep going and get things done when you’re tired,” says Elvira. However, ignoring the common warning signs is what gets drivers into trouble. She says tell-tale signs of fatigue include yawning, sore or heavy eyes, delayed reactions, forgetting the last few kilometres of travel or difficulty maintaining a constant speed. 

“It’s really important to get a good night’s sleep the night before a long trip and then to take a break and stretch your legs every two hours so you can continue on your trip refreshed,” says Elvira. 


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