Transcript—ABC Statewide Drive - VIC

Interview

DCI002/2017

01 January 2017

Subjects: 2016 Road trauma, Road safety

Warwick Long: Darren Chester is the Minister for Transport and Infrastructure in the Federal Government. And joins us now to talk more about it. Welcome to the program.

Darren Chester: And happy new year to you, Warwick.

Warwick Long: Yeah, happy new year. We will start with your portfolio really, is it the infrastructure that is a problem here. Can you put your finger on anything as the reason why the road toll is rising?

Darren Chester: Well it’s important to remember where we have come from, Warwick. And since the 1970’s where more than 3,000 people were killed on our roads on an annual basis, we have got the toll down in the last decades. But in the last two to three years we have seen an alarming national spike in road trauma. And we are now seeing an increase in fatalities and serious injuries which is very concerning. It is why I met with the state ministers responsible last year and also senior police officers last year and we went through what are the issues we think that are emerging that are contributing to this, and what can we be doing and by working together to address it now.

There is a whole range of issues. It is about safer roads, it is about safer vehicles and it is also about safer drivers, and combine all three to try and prevent crashes from occurring in the first place.

Warwick Long: And I imagine that has been the idea behind lowering the road toll for a very long time. How do you bring new ideas to those simple thoughts of making the community safer?

Darren Chester: Well some ways it is continuing to do the things we know are working well. So the speeding information campaigns and addressing issues of drinking alcohol and driving I think have been very successful in an Australian sense. We are now seeing increased use of illicit drugs and that is showing up in our accident figures which is alarming for everyone. So clearly an education campaign is going to be needed there, and also more efforts towards preventing people using illicit drugs in the first place.

We are seeing increases in older drivers being involved in crashes which is a concern as well as we have got an aging population in Australia. We need to make sure that our older drivers are as safe as they can be on the roads. And unfortunately as an older driver, if he or she is involved in a crash, the chance of a serious injury resulting from that are much higher as well. So that is another trend which is causing us concern.

And I think there’s things like making sure that new technology and the safer cars that are available now on the marketplace have an increased penetration that more people are looking for those safety features and are buying those cars if they can afford them because we know that will reduce the chances of a crash in the first place and also severity of any injuries if there is a crash.

Warwick Long: What’s South Australia doing right? Whilst all the other states are are hitting highs from the previous year, South Australia’s hit a record low.

Darren Chester: And that is a good question. And that is why we are getting all the ministers together to talk about their different approaches has been important. I think the South Australians – you can have a good year, and then suddenly you have a few serious crashes and your figures get blown out. Now in 2016 New South Wales and Victoria had very poor years. I know that’s a grave concern to the responsible ministers, but we are seeing a lot of serious crashes in our regional communities. They are high speed crashes, often single vehicle run off road incidents. So that is a really worrying trend that a disproportionate number of people are being killed on our rural and regional roads. The metropolitan road trauma has been reducing consistently over recent years, but the rural and regional toll has been increasing. That is one area that we need to focus on as well.

Warwick Long: And there is great frustration in rural and regional areas about the upkeep of many regional roads. That’s your portfolio, should more money be invested there to keep regional roads up to scratch?

Darren Chester: Well I think that leads into that whole conversation where we started, that it is a combination of factors. That you do need the safest roads available. So if those roads are not being engineered or maintained to a standard to contribute to safety, that is a real concern, and that is why we need to see state and federal governments and local governments working together on that. We have things like the Roads Recovery Program with the Federal Government spending money directly with local councils and they chose their own local priorities. I think there is more work I could be being with local councils in that regard about making sure that money goes to safety improvements as well.

Our road black spots program has been very successful, rolling out across Australia. And there’s an argument to be made that maybe more funding for that would assist in the number of crashes you get at intersections, and intersections are notorious for serious crashes in regional areas. So I think there’s an argument to be made there.

But at the same time there has been record spending on money duplication projects like the Pacific Highway upgrade between Sydney and Brisbane which I drove just a couple of weeks ago. And to see the improvements in safety on that road has been quite staggering to a very significant investment by both the Commonwealth and New South Wales government’s.

Warwick Long: And that’s it though, isn’t it. At a time when there is a lot of investment being made in major arterials and rightly so. We’re moving people around as the cities get larger and larger. I’d imagine that there are those roads that are used less often that can become a lot more dangerous. Is that fair to say?

Darren Chester: I think that is a very fair comment. I have been involved with conversations with state minister since I took on this role about 12 months ago and I have become very concerned about our strategic regional roads. Those arterial roads which may not be the national highways, but they do show up very heavily in crash statistics. And contrary to the myth in many of regional communities that it is all tourists or visitors to the region, a lot of times it is local people who have been killed and injured on local roads. And we need to make sure we are educating local people to maintain their vigilance on the road they drive everyday as well.

At the same time we have to accept our responsibility as government’s we can’t always be blaming drivers. We have got to accept our responsibility to maintain a safe road environment and that’s why you have seen a large rollout of things like the safety barriers alongside roads. You have seen on the Bruce Highway in Queensland, implementation of a wider lane marking in the middle of the road to try and keep vehicles away from each other and that has been very successful in reducing serious crashes on the Bruce Highway.

So some of these treatments, if you like, are reasonably low cost engineering solutions and others are more expensive like duplication or major intersection works.

Warwick Long: And what about the safety of cars? I noticed you made some comments today about how it is likely that when you are the most inexperienced as a driver, you are going to be driving probably the most unsafe car that you will in your driving life. What can be done about that at a time when that is really a financial decision, isn’t it?

Darren Chester: It is. And that is one of the great ironies of life, I guess, that younger drivers are at their most risk of having a crash and suffering a serious injury or fatality when in their first five years of driving. And that coincides with a time when you probably haven’t got the resources to afford the safest car available. So it is an irony and a problem we need to work our way through. And I’d like to keep reminding parents in particular if they are in a position to help their kids with an extra few thousand dollars to buy a safer second-hand car. And you can check out websites like How Safe is My Car which is run by ANCAP and it explains the safety ratings of vehicles.

Those safety ratings are a good indicator to people of what sort of safety features are in that vehicle. And that investment if you can afford to help your young driver out with some money to buy a better car, the chance of them having a crash in the first place is reduced, and the severity of any injuries which are sustained if there is a crash are reduced as well. So it’s an important conversation…

Warwick Long: Would you look at a first car buyers grant, like a first home buyers grant but with the idea of getting a safer car?

Darren Chester: Well it’s a question that I have pondered myself a lot over the last ten months and I haven’t come to a conclusive position on that because when we’re seeing things like Cash for Clunkers and those sort of schemes in the past they tend to just push up the price of second-hand vehicles. I think there are ways that the government can work perhaps with the banking sector, the insurance sector and the motor vehicle industry itself on perhaps more innovative ways to get younger drivers into the safest car available. That is a conversation I have started with those sectors to see what we can do together to make a better car more affordable for young drivers. Because this is costing the Australian government in the order of $30 billion in economic losses from having serious car crashes resulting in injuries.

If we can reduce the number of those crashes, reduce the amount of road trauma, there is an obvious economic benefit. And then there’s a very clear social benefit that every time someone is killed or injured in a serious car accident a lot of people feel the pain. It is not just the one family or the one group of friends, there is a ripple throughout our regional communities in particular as people are affected by these crashes. There’s emergency service workers, the first responders on the scene, they are exposed to that trauma. It is a very serious issue in our community, and tragically over these last couple of years to see that road trauma spike again and head in the wrong direction is something that I’m deeply concerned about.

Warwick Long: Darren Chester, thanks for your time.

Darren Chester: All the best. Thank you for your interest.