SMH: Draft road safety plan lacks ambition, say experts

Experts have slammed the federal government’s draft road safety plan, saying its unambitious targets could result in as many as 60,000 avoidable deaths and injuries over the next decade.

It would also cause Australia’s road safety performance to fall, going from 15th in the OECD to an “embarrassing” 25th by 2030, said Rob McInerney, the chief executive of non-profit road ratings agency, the International Road Assessment Program (iRAP).

About 1200 Australians are killed on the roads each year, and about 40,000 are seriously injured.

Six people died on NSW roads this Easter. “We have definitely seen vehicles leaving the road and hitting trees, and people killed and injured as a result. These are tragic and preventable deaths that we see every Easter, every week, every year on Australia’s roads,” said Mr McInerney.

The draft plan by the Office of Road Safety recommends reducing deaths by 41 per cent and injuries by 18 per cent by 2030, less than the goal of halving deaths and injuries set by the European Union. It also sets a goal of cutting road deaths and injuries to zero by 2050.

It says the number of people injured in car crashes is increasing by about 3 per cent a year, with many facing life-threatening injuries.

The draft plan proposes increased infrastructure planning and investment; managing speeds where “conflicts between vehicles and car users … cannot be avoided”; the development of a regulation impact statement on reducing default speed limits on the open roads; and increased public education of risky road use.

Submissions by the Australian Automobile Association (AAA), the Australasian College of Road Safety, Towards Zero and the Pedestrian Council of Australia say the draft plan repeats the mistakes of the past and lacks ambition and detail, and its goals fall short.

The AAA says it appears incomplete, lacking detail on how it will move to zero deaths and injuries.

The road safety experts say the plan downplays the role of speed, given that many countries last year endorsed a move to 30km/h on roads where vulnerable road users and vehicles frequently mix; it ignores the vulnerability of pedestrians and lumps them in the same category as motorbike users; it allows for a return of a “blame the driver” approach to safety; and it lacks crucial details of how progress will be funded, measured and reported.

Dr John Crozier, the chair of the national trauma committee of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, welcomed the plan but was disappointed it didn’t go far enough.

“Surgeons deal with 100 patients injured on the roads every day. We don’t want to deal with this number in 2030,” said Dr Crozier, the co-chair of the inquiry into the previous road safety plan’s failure.

“We handled the international pandemic exceptionally well, but we have failed to handle the silent epidemic on the roads that has killed and hospitalised more people than COVID in the same time,” he said.

After reviewing the previous road safety plan, Dr Crozier and Professor Jeremy Woolley from South Australia’s Centre for Automotive Safety Research warned that 12,000 people would be killed and 360,000 admitted to hospital at a cost of more than $300 billion over the next decade if the mistakes of the past weren’t addressed.

Mr McInerney called on the government to increase its targets. If the number of people injured was cut by 50 per cent, with commensurate funding to deliver a safer road system, there would be fewer than 20,000 injuries in 2030. A cut of 18 per cent means at least 33,000 will still be injured in 2030 alone, he said. That equates to 60,000 more Australians who would die or be injured on the roads between now and 2030, said Mr McInerney.

A spokesperson for the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communication said it had received more than 100 submissions on the draft that it would review as it finalised the strategy and a five-year national Action Plan.

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