Transcript—ABC Statewide

Interview

DCI004/2017

02 January 2017

Subjects: 2016 Road trauma, Road safety

Sami Shah: More than 1200 people died on Australian roads in 2016 and the Transport Infrastructure Minister, Darren Chester, has described that as a tragedy of national proportions. One of the solutions to this tragedy he feels, is that people need to buy safer cars for their kids. A little bit more money spent on a car that is a little bit better to drive and a little bit safer to be around in.

The Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Darren Chester, is with us now. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

Darren Chester: Good morning team and Happy New Year to you.

Sami Shah: Happy New Year, sir. The first question I have for you is: you are saying that you want people to buy better cars for their kids. These are expensive though.

Darren Chester: Well that is exactly right, but the challenge in terms of road trauma, and you mentioned in your introduction is that more than 1,200 people died on Australian roads in the past 12 months and that is our worst result since 2012. And the whole approach to reducing road trauma is about safer drivers, so drive behaviour, safer roads, so governments have a responsibility to provide good roads, but safer cars themselves have been proven to reduce the number of crashes. And if a crash still occurs, the severity of the injuries to the occupants is reduced.

So the comment I was making over the weekend and further today is that we should be seeking to get younger drivers into the safest cars we can possibly afford for them. Because younger drivers are overrepresented in our crash statistics. And there’s this sort of irony, if you like, that the worst car you will probably ever drive is your first car, which is the time you’re most likely to crash a car. So whatever we can do to help our kids into buying the safest car they can afford I think is a good move.

Harriet Lonnborn: Lots of parents won’t want to pay for their children’s cars because they can’t afford it or because they want to teach their children a lesson about saving and making their own purchasing power. So is there a policy way that we can try and get young people into safer cars?

Darren Chester: I think that is a fair point, Harriet. I have got two young girls, 20 and 18, who have both just purchased their own car in the last couple of years. And the deal we came to was whatever they could afford, I would match them. Now I’m in a fortunate position to have a good income, could afford to match their contribution. They both bought second-hand cars with five star ANCAP ratings. And I made that decision that yes they’d have to feel a bit of pain themselves to pay for at least half of the car, but then I’d come to the party and try and make sure it was a bit newer and had more safety features. So that was a decision we made as a family.

Now I’m not suggesting everyone’s in that position to be able to shell out money for their kids cars, but having that conversation about buying the safest car you can afford is an important one because it reduces the amount of crashes we have in the first case. But it also reduces the extent of injuries if you are unlucky enough to have a crash.

Now, no one wakes up in the morning thinks I’m going to die in a car crash today, but unfortunately we have a lot of car crashes across Australia on a daily basis. And if we can get more people into safer cars, we can reduce the severity of injuries to those people.

Sami Shah: The idea that people do buy their cars and when they buy their cars they are actually just looking to save money or something is one that might be seen as elitist. For example by many people who are out there trying to get by on whatever income they have. Isn’t the answer to this problem better regulation perhaps on road safety, road worthiness of the car that you currently have?

Darren Chester: Well I think that is a very good point. You need to maintain whatever vehicle you do have in the best possible shape, and all the safety features in the world aren’t going to mean much if the vehicle’s not properly maintained and road worthy. But this is not a point about making sure that everyone goes out and spends a small fortune on their car. The point I’m trying to make is that you can purchase a five star rated car second-hand for under $10,000. If you’re in a position to help your kids purchase one of those, rather than save a couple of grand and buy an older car with less safety features, I’m arguing that you are better off making a contribution if you can as a parent to help your kids out in that regard.

Now, there is a whole conversation to be had there about how we can make cars more affordable in the future, but the safety features that are in cars today in comparison to 20 years ago are quite remarkable. The driver-assisted technology to help you from avoiding a crash in the first place is quite extraordinary, and also the safety features like airbags, which are detonating in the case of a severe crash. Now, all those features mean that you can reduce the severity of injuries to people inside the vehicle at the time.

Harriet Lonnborn: Minister, governments buy a lot of cars in bulk through the fleet programs, and then they end up being in the second-hand market. Would it help if the Government committed to buying safer, higher quality vehicles so that they didn’t flood the market with low-quality, unsafe cars?

Darren Chester: You are spot on Harriet, and the Federal Government, I think the State Government of Victoria has the same purchasing policy, that they only purchase five star rated vehicles. So those vehicles inevitably end up in the auction system or in the second-hand car yards and they are available once they have probably done 40 or 50,000 kilometres for purchase. So I know the Federal Governments has all its public servants in five star rated vehicles, and I’m pretty confident the Victorian Government has the same policy position. So that is occurring, and that is a very positive development in policy I guess.

And look, it doesn’t change the fact that this is a complex equation. We have to invest in safer roads, we have to make sure that drivers are acting responsibly and taking responsibility for not only their own safety, but other road users, and not thinking this is just a matter of police or governments to reduce road trauma. Every one of us who shares a road has a responsibility to other road users and the people in our own vehicles to get home safely, and we have seen some pretty poor behaviour over the Christmas period again. Police are telling me that more than 1,300 people have been booked for driving with excessive alcohol or illicit drugs in their system. So yes, you do need to have a safe car, but you also need to have a safe driver behind the wheel as well.

Harriet Lonnborn: Minister, thank you very much for your time. It is a complex issue, but I appreciate you talking it through with us.

Darren Chester: I appreciate your interest, and safe travels everyone.

Harriet Lonnborn: Thank you, and to you.

Sami Shah: And that was Darren Chester, the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport.