Senate debates

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Statements by Senators

Road Safety

1:34 pm

Photo of Ricky MuirRicky Muir (Victoria, Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the important issue of road safety. Road safety is an issue that is close to the hearts of the motoring enthusiast community and of course the broader community. We all want to survive the drive. We want our families, our friends and our work mates to survive on our roads. The sad fact is that road trauma touches Australian families every day of every week. We cannot ignore the fact that, despite our efforts, 25 people die on our roads every week and 600 people are seriously injured every week.

Road trauma costs the Australian economy $27 billion every year. This is equivalent to 18 per cent of our health expenditure and 1.8 per cent of our GDP. If there is one budget cost that we all want to cut, it is the cost of road trauma. Imagine what we could do if we slashed $2 billion, $5 billion or, even better, $27 billion from our budget through the elimination of road deaths and injuries. We could fix the budget not by cutting the benefits of those less fortunate but by cutting the cost of road trauma, an initiative I believe the majority of our colleagues would support.

Whilst it is true there has been a reduction in the road toll over the past decade—a fact that we can all be proud of as a nation—the sad fact is that the number of serious injuries has not reduced but is in fact increasing We believe this is not being adequately addressed in the National Road Safety Strategy and that an urgent focus needs to be placed on creating a culture of responsibility among drivers on our roads. Otherwise, the aim to reduce our road toll and serious injuries by 30 per cent by 2020 will be nothing more than a pipedream. It is concerning that Australia's overall road safety ranking continues to fall compared to other OECD countries. Australia currently ranks 16th among 33 countries, lagging behind even Mexico when it comes to road safety outcomes. This ongoing trend cannot be ignored.

Whilst speaking of road trauma, I would also mention the fatalities and injuries associated with Australia's road transport industry, an industry without which Australia would not survive, but an industry that consistently records an average of more than one death on our roads every single week; an industry that sees 28 workers injured every single working day; an industry that has been acknowledged as being 15 times more dangerous than the second-most dangerous occupation in Australia; an industry where employees commence work each day knowing they could potentially become yet another statistic of our appalling road safety record, yet where transport drivers are only at fault in six per cent of multiple vehicle accidents.

Progress in road safety is generally measured in terms of a reduction in fatality rates. Whilst no-one could argue that a reduction in the road toll is important, that is only a part of the equation. We cannot continue to ignore the fact that our Road Safety Strategy is not working to reduce the number of accidents and serious injuries on our roads.

We have seen a decline in our road toll mainly due to the improvements in vehicle safety, and advancement in the way emergency services manage trauma at the accident scene. Much focus has been placed on surviving the accident; however, very little focus has been placed on avoiding the accident in the first place. We need to be doing both, if we want to see better results.

It is critical to our community that the government recognises that, whilst vehicle ANCAP ratings and vehicle standards play an important role in road safety, they do not lessen the chance of vehicles being involved in crashes. It is a secondary control that determines the chance of survival once a crash has already occurred. A vehicle with the latest 5-star ANCAP rating and a 1960s classic vehicle have the same road safety outcome, if they are not involved in an accident.

Considering motoring enthusiasts are under-represented in accidents, yet traditionally drive vehicles with little or no safety features, sends a strong message that driver attitude and driver awareness play a big part in reducing accidents. The last thing enthusiasts want to do is hurt their vehicles, so the majority drive accordingly.

It is far more effective to avoid crashes in the first place by adopting lower risk driving techniques, and in this regard, motoring enthusiasts aim to be recognised as the leaders in safe driving practice. Without a stronger focus in the National Road Safety Strategy toward safer drivers, we will continue to fall behind other OECD nations.

This leads me to discuss a subject very close to my heart, and the Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party, that of driver education. A vehicle is generally not autonomous in its operation. It does not move without a driver, yet little credibility is placed on the value of driver education as a way to improve road safety and reduce trauma. It has been disappointing to see whenever this subject of better driver education is raised, it is instantly dismissed by many in the road safety sector. It would appear this thinking has its roots in statements such as 'even the most competent driver will still make mistakes'. So the focus has been on a lessening of driver-interaction, through the introduction of ever-smarter vehicles in an effort to reduce the risk.

Whilst it is true that all drivers can make mistakes, educated drivers, aware drivers, have the ability to manage and correct those mistakes, and, most importantly, can often anticipate the mistakes of other drivers. This fact should not be dismissed. Over 99 per cent of crashes involve some degree of driver error. Driver decisions in the moments leading up to a crash can, in most cases, prevent or reduce the severity. Creating better drivers by implementing systems based on driver competence rather than on our punishment-based system of driver compliance will lead to a better road experience that is safer for us all.

While vehicle technology, road design and road conditions have improved in leaps and bounds over the last 40 years, and speed limits have continued to be reduced, little has been achieved in promoting the concept of driver training to prevent crashes from occurring. We need to focus on producing better drivers. Competent and informed drivers making better decisions behind the wheel. It is time to break down the age old myths that have long plagued driver education. It is time to challenge the way we look at things, to see what else is possible and to work towards better outcomes for road safety. In our ever-changing environment, and with meaningful driver education programs, our ability to adapt and to think differently will put us in good standing for better road safety outcomes.