Transcript—6PR Perth Afternoons

Interview

DCI006/2017

02 January 2017

Subjects: 2016 Road Trauma, Road Safety, Infrastructure

Rob Broadfield: He joins us online now. Minister, welcome to the program.

Darren Chester: Good afternoon Rob, how are you?

Rob Broadfield: Good thank you. You may remember your colleague Joe Hockey, got in all kinds of strife when he suggested that poor people should use public transport instead of want cars. It's a difficult area isn't it, when you start asking people to spend more money that they might not have on cars?

Darren Chester: Well I'm not going anywhere near the comments that my former colleague Mr Hockey made. The point I was making Rob, was in relation to this whole question about road trauma. In Australia over the past 12 months we have seen 1280 people killed on our roads, which is our worst result since 2012. In Western Australia itself we have had a very bad year in 2016 with 193 road fatalities, and part of the conversation has got to be around the types of cars we are driving. Obviously it is a difficult issue to try and resolve. It is about safer roads, it is about safer drivers, but it's also about safer cars. We find that most young people when they start out driving, they don't have a lot of money behind them and they tend to be driving the worst car of their lives, which coincides with a time in their lives when they are most prone to having some sort of a car crash. So that is what prompted the discussion as part of a broader interview I was doing in relation to road trauma more generally.

Rob Broadfield: Yes, it's at a time when especially young men but increasingly young women take greater risks at that age in cars, they think they are pretty invincible. You combine that with an old clunker and it reduces their capacity to survive a crash, or at least survive a crash without serious injury doesn't it?

Darren Chester: Well the challenge is Rob, that younger drivers are overrepresented in all the road trauma figures, particularly young males as you pointed out. We know that the new cars that are on the market and those that have been produced in the last five or ten years have technology on board which reduces the chance of having a crash. They can assist the driver with some of the technology that's on board. But they also—in the event that you do have a crash—they also reduce the severity of injuries that you sustain in that crash.

So there are benefits there in terms of getting younger people into the safest possible car that they can afford, and the point I was making is that often they are not in a position to pay for that themselves and parents may need to look at whether they can help them out on that first purchase. Now that is not about saying everyone has to buy a new car by any stretch it is about recognising that if you are in a safer car, the chances are that you'll have less chance of having a crash and also you'll have a better chance of walking away from it if it does occur.

Rob Broadfield: Mr Chester, is it happening organically though? Because I know—and this may not be a representative sample of course—but I know with our own friends and colleagues and so on, that a lot of them are making that decision. They are saying, look it is going to be your first car, mate, or daughter or whatever and they won't let their kids drive a clunker and they will chip in a bit of money to help ensure that they get a better one. And they're constantly looking at things like the five-star crash ratings on cars these days perhaps more than ever before and making the decision on behalf of their children that that is in fact the way to go. As you were saying, they chip the money in and the kids pay a bit and they pay a bit and they get a car which they may survive a crash in. Isn't that kind of happening anyway?

Darren Chester: I think you are right. There is a greater awareness now than perhaps ever before in relation to the safety of the vehicles we drive. As parents, I know I have got two young girls—18 and 20—and the decision we made was we'd help them out with their purchase. I mean there's no way I'd put all the money in myself, I think they have got to learn to fend for themselves and everything else. But I did say to my girls if you do your part time jobs and you earn money working in retail like they were doing, I was happy to help them out to try to get a safer car for them and that is what we did.

Now I think people are more aware now than ever before about the safety of the car they are driving. But the point I'm making Rob, is quite clearly what we are doing in relation to road trauma isn't necessarily working across the board at the moment. The increase we have seen in these last couple of years is something which is deeply troubling to me. I know the West Australian Road Minister and West Australian police have the same concerns. That we are seeing increases in road fatalities, particularly in our regional areas, and we need to work our way through the problem.

And it is not simply a question of the car we drive, it is also about as government's we need to invest in safer roads and do our share of the heavy lifting there. And as drivers, as people who get behind the wheel, we need to take personal responsibility for our own behaviour and for the safety of the people in our car. So it is a complex equation, but it is one that now after decades of seeing improvements in road safety in Australia, having a spike in the last couple of years is something that concerns me greatly.

Rob Broadfield: Yes, the spike—clearly it is not only attributed to clunkers and bad cars, but in terms of road trauma—which you're also speaking about today as you said—what are the mitigating factors which have made it spike in the last couple of years?

Darren Chester: Well that is a difficult. I think we are certainly seeing increased use of mobile phones in cars is causing greater distraction and leading to some of the instances we are seeing. And it's hard to necessarily properly research that because people aren't necessarily going to admit they were using their phone if they run off the road. But we have got no doubt that it is contributing to road trauma. In larger states like Western Australia we have seen increasing crashes in the Wheatbelt in particular, and that really has something to do with the vast distances people are traveling and we need to make sure that people understand the need to take a break every couple of hours and pull over and have a rest if they are getting tired. We don't necessarily—as blokes in particular—I think we just think we keep on driving, and unfortunately we have got to get the message through to blokes in particular that it is important you take those breaks.

But it is a combination of factors. I mean alcohol is still playing its role, speed is playing its role. We are seeing an increase in illicit drug use which is something which is deeply concerning across the nation that illicit drug use in serious road crashes is coming through more heavily now than ever before. That is another issue for the police and for the governments to work on.

Rob Broadfield: My first car was an absolute bomb. The breaks barely worked, it often stopped. You didn't have electronic management in those days, it had a distributor for God's sake and all those sorts of things packed up routinely. It was a very dangerous car in retrospect to drive because it was just so unreliable and so bad. But I have to say that even at that tender age I knew to drive it very carefully and to allow longer distances and not to speed and so on to compensate for its frankly awfulness, if you like.

Is that something you'll say you'd recommend to kids or young people getting their first car? To think about what they are driving and how to drive it?

Darren Chester: Well the bottom line I think all the time is to drive to the conditions. What we are seeing is speed is still playing a very significant role in the severity of accidents, in regional areas in particular, we have a lot of run off road incidents where it is one person in the car, run off the road at speed, hitting something very hard. Whether it is a tree or some other roadside obstacle, and the consequences are very severe. Now part of that has got to be driver fatigue, driver distraction and speed all playing its role.

We have just got to keep on reminding each other about the importance of taking those breaks, of being responsible for our own safety on the road. Look I think we can't accept that more than 1,200 Australians have to die this year on our roads. I think we can keep on working together as a community, working with different levels of government and just refocusing our efforts. To think that we have come so far in the last 30 or 40 years in reducing road trauma. To see the last couple of years starting to increase is deeply concerning for me as a Minister, but also as a dad and a road user. So I'm very keen to work with the West Australian authorities to make sure we do everything we can to put an end to what has occurred in the last couple of years in WA and get the road trauma figures heading back in the right direction.

Rob Broadfield: Good onya. Now free kick time for you. When you guys were elected, or the Turnbull Government was elected, there was a lot of lavish promises made about spending lots of money on the nation's roads. How's that program going?

Darren Chester: Well it's a $50 billion infrastructure program, it is going well. You won't be surprised to hear me say as the Minister responsible that there is always more you can do and I continually talk to other ministers about the need for greater investment in road and rail infrastructure across the nation. WA has got some great projects going on in Perth in particular and there's some other good projects going in regional WA. I'm actually heading over your way in the next couple of weeks to catch up with the Royal Auto people and they are going to show me around some of the projects and obviously they'll be raising other projects they think that'll need to be done in Western Australia. So that's always worthwhile.

I think it's a good program. We are working in partnership with the state government to deliver everything we promised we would do in the campaign. But there is always more to be done. People always want better roads, better rail links, and it is only natural that they continue to work with their local members of parliament to get that happening in their communities.

Rob Broadfield: Good on you Minister. Darren Chester, the Federal Transport Minister, joining us on line about his issue today, calling on parents to think a little more carefully about perhaps just chipping in to help their kids get a much better car than they would ordinarily get if they were paying for it all off their own bat.