Senate debates

Monday, 4 December 2017


Road Safety

9:50 pm

Photo of Alex GallacherAlex Gallacher (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to make a contribution on a familiar topic of interest to many people in Australia, and that is road safety. The Hon. Darren Chester recently told 650 delegates at the Australasian Road Safety Conference in Perth:

… there is a war on our roads and we have to keep working together to win each of the battles. Like any war, it needs a national focus, it needs a national response, and it needs national leadership. We have to battle together for funds, we have to battle our own internal bureaucratic systems, and we have to battle complacency. On that point, I fear we've become too accepting of the casualties on our roads. We seem almost resigned to the bloodshed. We seem immune to the horrific losses we sustain on a daily basis, and perhaps that comes from the mistaken belief that it won't happen to us, that I'm a good driver, it won't affect me. But as each and every person in this room knows, it affects us all.

So we have a minister who understands the issues and who is able to easily articulate the problems.

What I want to go on to is setting a bit more of the background to this. Twenty years ago, in 1998, the Federal Office of Road Safety published monograph No. 23 of 1998, entitled The history of road fatalities in Australia: the war on the roads. The opening paragraph said:

Road crashes are a major cause of death and injury in Australia, and incur costs estimated to be in excess of $6 billion annually.

…   …   …

Some 160,670 lives have been lost—

since 1925. It continues:

… this death toll greatly surpasses the aggregate Australians killed in the four major wars in which this country has been involved (89,850 deaths). Whereas this should be an ongoing cause for concern to all Australians, it is worth noting what has been achieved in eliminating the problem.

This is in the areas of safer vehicles, seatbelts, helmets, drink-driving enforcement and improved roads, to name just a few. We've got the problem pretty well nailed. We've actually got a lot of the solutions on the books and we know what works. We have a minister who wants to go in the right direction, but addressed a road safety conference of 650 people exalting them to help him achieve the result we need to get.

The Hon. Barry Cohen, a past federal minister, wrote in The Australian in 2013:

Whichever graph you study, it shows there are about 90,000 people alive today who would have been dead without the work of scientists, engineers, road safety lobbyists and politicians who refused to accept the industry's propaganda that the fault lay with the drivers.

Ralph Nader said:

It is faster, cheaper and more enduring to build operationally safe and crash-worthy automobiles that will prevent death and injury than to build a policy around the impossible goal of having drivers behave perfectly at all times under all conditions in the operation of a basically unsafe vehicle and often treacherous highway conditions.

So the best minds know the issues and know the problems, and we know the solutions. But this is the problem: a report from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in the United States last week noted, 'No matter how quickly technology develops, it will take at least 25 years before nearly all vehicles on US roads have today's latest technology.' And we haven't even started in Australia. We're probably not even looking that way.

Authors from Virginia Tech and Carnegie Mellon, in an article titled, 'Some of the best parts of autonomous vehicles are already here', have said:

… it's important not to lose sight of smaller improvements that could more immediately save lives and reduce injuries and economic costs of highway crashes.

… elements of self-driving car systems, such as adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warnings and head-on collision-avoidance systems, could reduce road deaths by up to one-third if these were available on every car in the U.S. Other researchers have confirmed the benefits of these incremental automotive innovations, but they're not universal yet. For instance, only 6 percent of new cars in model year 2017 have lane departure warning as a standard feature.

We know the problem. We know the solutions. The real issue here is a lack of action by this federal government. It may be that they've only carried on from previous federal governments that haven't acted in this space, but we do know this: in 2017, to the year ending October, 1,217 people lost their lives on Australian roads. And we know that there is technology that could avoid that. We know that there is technology which could be implemented on the imported cars that are coming into Australia, of which there are more than a million a year. We don't manufacture motor vehicles anymore. We're importing in excess of a million. We could be mandating these life-saving technologies, and we're not doing it. That's a disgrace. We know that in 2017, to the month of October, 31 people in New South Wales lost their lives. In Victoria, 10 lost their lives; in Queensland, 22; in South Australia, nine; in WA, 14; in Tasmania, four; and, in the NT, four. Zero in the ACT have lost their lives, and that's a very good result. But the reality is we're not going to have zero. We're going to continue to have a lot of people who will lose their lives through road accidents. In a lot of cases, that could be avoided with the implementation of this smart technology and with the implementation of simple and clear strategies. And they're abundant.

If you look at the Australasian College of Road Safety or the Australian Automobile Association, they've developed a national road safety platform:

A re-established Federal Office of Road Safety to coordinate the national policy response to the ongoing deaths and injuries caused by road crashes—

That doesn't seem like an inordinate requirement; it's common sense—

Improved data collection — To help identify gaps in road safety and measure success.

Promoting best practice and research — All states and territories should be equipped with the tools to address emerging and critical issues in road safety—

Common sense, once again—

Funding of land transport infrastructure — Proven risk assessment methods such as AusRAP should be used to prioritise projects which have a positive road safety outcome to put risk assessment at the heart of strategic decisions on road improvements, crash protection and standards of road management.

Safer vehicles — Ongoing Government funding should be provided for ANCAP to continue conducting independent crash tests and vehicle safety assessments. Resourcing should also be provided to engage in proactive assessment of international developments which may affect the Australian Design Rules.

So we have the solutions; we have the technology; we have a great body of road safety experts; and we have good work done in every jurisdiction in Australia. We just seem to lack the will federally. It is disgraceful that, in any jurisdiction in Australia, money that was allocated through the Black Spot Program was not all spent. That means that, somewhere, someone's been killed or injured. A black spot's been identified; it's gone through a testing and evaluation procedure; it's been put up through a recommendation of a committee to the federal government; and the money's been allocated, but the job hasn't been done. We know from previous speeches in this place and previous reports that you get a 30 per cent reduction in death and injury if you fix a black spot, yet we have a government which says all the right things but isn't getting on with the job. It's a disgrace.