We are little more than a week into the new year, and already the fatality count on our nation’s roads is into double figures.
Not unsurprisingly, media coverage has been focused on the “horror start” to 2019’s road toll, but I have to wonder whether we truly appreciate the real devastation of that “horror”.
Much has been made of a drop in the national road toll in 2018 – which is indeed welcome – but there were still 1144 people killed.
One thousand, one hundred and forty-four people did not make it home.
That left 1144 devastated families trying to cope with the loss of a loved one, and doesn’t even hint at the many thousands of people who would have been seriously injured and possibly left with lifelong complications because of a crash.
Anyone who has spent time driving our nation’s roads will have seen the roadside memorials left by families.
Those flowers, teddy bears and other trinkets ought to serve just as much as a reminder of the potential dangers on our roads as any official government warning.
There is no 'acceptable number'. If you were to take the 2018 toll of 1144 and multiply that out over five years, you’re looking at a figure that’s creeping awfully close to 6000, which is about the population of the town I grew up in.
Earlier this week, I was talking to a friend whose job with one of the emergency services regularly puts him at the scenes of crashes.
He reckons one of the biggest problems is that when people get behind the wheel, they are not always driving to the conditions like fog, storms, road works, wildlife, fatigue, unsealed roads – any of the myriad conditions which can have an impact, particularly in the bush.
Sadly, it is too often still our regional areas that see the greatest number of crashes.
In NSW, for example, about one third of the population lives in country areas, yet two thirds of crashes occur there.
While there are a number of unique factors contributing to greater risk on country roads – higher speeds, roadside hazards such as trees and embankments, longer travel distances and older vehicles – research shows that driver behaviour is still the most significant factor in crashes, according to the NSW Roads and Maritime Service.
Speeding, driver fatigue, drink driving and not wearing a seatbelt are more likely to contribute to country fatalities and serious injuries.
So, how do we fix it?
Across Australia, state governments are implementing variations of a “towards zero” campaign to bring down the death toll.
Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy fix and, heartbreakingly, there probably won’t ever be a national road toll of zero.
But we have to keep trying, because even one death – one family left struggling to pick up the pieces – is too many.
There is no “acceptable number”. If you were to take the 2018 toll of 1144 and multiply that out over five years, you’re looking at a figure that’s creeping awfully close to 6000, which is about the population of the town I grew up in.
That’s too many people, which is attention must continue to be paid to every single crash so that we can try to prevent similar incidents in the future. Crash investigators devote countless hours to understanding how road accidents occur.
We need to start paying close attention to what these investigators are telling us, because as we identify trends, we can combat ways of overcoming them.
In all likelihood, we know a lot of the risk factors already and we need to listen.
There’s a reason we have speed limits, blood alcohol levels and fatigue warnings. It’s not always about revenue raising and can help to save lives.
We cannot legislate the unexpected out of existence, but we can reduce the risks.
In 2019, we are lucky that both the overall quality and the safety features of the average car is pretty high, but that isn’t an excuse for complacency.
From speeding on a dark, winding rural road to tailgating on a city expressway, all of us who get behind the wheel of a car have to be aware of the risks.
While the road toll may never actually be reduced to nothing, we cannot give up trying. We owe it to ourselves and our families to keep striving to be safe on the roads.