As Australia’s summer holiday season draws to a close, we again conduct our synopsis into the horror ‘road toll’ that occurred over the break. Unfortunately, high road fatalities have become an expected and accepted part of our Christmas and New Year’s holidays. There is no doubt that witnessing the carnage is sickening, deeply distressing and plainly sad, as ill-equipped and unbeknownst drivers, many (70% of the population) from our capital cities, hit the highways for their holidays, largely unaware or incapable of adapting to the many perils associated with driving on country roads.
The annual response from the politicians is (as usual) re-active, as they postulate and howl nebulous ideas in typical knee-jerk fashion. Void of sincerity they predictably demand better roads, better vehicle technology and better education. Lost on the tabloid media reporting this political rhetoric is that it’s actually only the politicians who have the power to enact meaningful change in these areas. Continuous education, improved roads and vehicle technology may have actually worked well over past decades, but it’s now time to reassess the current ‘cause and effect’ and implement new changes, rather than chant the same old mantras.
The historical statistics support how effective past initiatives have been in reducing the road toll and sometimes we need to look at where we have been in order to see where we are going. We tend to forget how much ‘things’ have improved, how far we have come and what has been achieved over many decades. In the years since I first got behind the wheel in 1970, Australia’s population was a mere 12.51 million. By 2015 it increased significantly by over 90% to 23.79 million, however, the numbers of road deaths over the same 45 year period declined by 68%.
In 1970 there were 3,798 road fatalities in Australia with the annual count trending progressively down to 1,209 by 2015. The statisticians explain ‘Road Fatalities’ as a measure of ‘losses per 100,000 per year’ which was 30.36 individuals in 1970 reducing to 5.08 in 2015, a decline of 83%. If you overlay 1970s statistics with the present day, the annual road toll would be in excess of 7,300 fatalities, an indication of how effective the safety initiatives have been. This is an extraordinary result.
As positive (and grim) as these statistics can be, we can no longer just rely on doing what we did yesterday. Our society and behaviours are continually changing at a rapid pace and if we are to address the new causes of road fatalities, then politicians need to respond and shift the policy direction accordingly. There is so much that can be done to further contain the deaths on our roads, if only politicians got fair-dinkum and tried a more innovative approach, rather than ‘babbling on’ about the same old initiatives that have been in place for years.
The latest and trending cause of fatalities relates to the increased number of individuals now driving unlicensed and or under the influence of drugs, with police detecting nearly as many ice, ecstasy and cannabis drivers (but not cocaine) as those caught drink driving. Drivers on Australian roads are able to get behind the wheel ‘off their heads’ on certain drugs because of a legal loophole that excludes testing for a number of drugs including cocaine.
With Sydney officially the nation’s cocaine capital why are politicians dragging their feet? Why not change the law as necessary and start testing drivers for cocaine, the drug of choice that fuels the benders for glitzy celebrities, the high-class and the top-end of town, the drug with no safe level of use?
It’s time for politicians to act. For example, why are we so busy advocating for driverless cars but choose not to explore technologies that would prevent unlicensed drivers from getting behind the wheel? The technology already exists to immobilize a vehicle without a valid ‘chipped’ drivers licence integrated into the vehicles connectivity systems. A recent government report revealed that 11% of all fatal crashes involved unlicensed drivers, who were considered responsible for the crash in 85% of cases.
The bottom line is that there are preventative measures that can be implemented to further reduce the road toll, but it requires politicians to be bold, to embrace change and not be politically paralysed by simply suggesting further reductions in speed limits!
The large majority of drunk and drugged drivers are unlicensed. We need to implement stricter random testing for all illicit drugs and promote the use of technology that takes control of a motor vehicle away from unlicensed drivers.
Perhaps then we can continue to reduce the unnecessary loss of life on our roads.
22 January 2018
“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” ― Albert Einstein