Transcript—2GB Michael McLaren

Interview

DCI007/2017

04 January 2017

Subjects: 2016 Road Trauma, Road Safety

Michael McLaren: Darren Chester has been good enough to join us. Minister, good afternoon.

Darren Chester: Good afternoon, Michael.

Michael McLaren: A good opinion piece to put out there. I mean, this is always a message that needs to be drilled into the heads of people that when on the road you’ve got to be very careful, very conscious, and very safe.

Darren Chester: Well it is important, Michael, to remember where we have come from in Australia in terms of reducing road trauma. Back in 1970 we had 3,798 people killed on our roads and we managed to get that down over the past 30 or 40 years which has been a great credit to drivers and to safer vehicles and to legislation changes. But the last couple of years have started to see a spike in road trauma right across Australia—New South Wales in particular and Victoria and Queensland have done quite badly in 2016. And I’m deeply concerned, just like other state ministers are concerned and state police are concerned, that unless we do something, unless we have a re-look and a re-think and work our way through these problems, we are going to see another year in 2017 where, you know, upwards of 1,200 people die on our roads. And simply that is not good enough.

Michael McLaren: No we have got to try to do better and of course you mentioned the 1970s where we had the peak 3,798 people die—I think that was 1970—but then that of course was a much smaller population, far fewer cars on the road, so it was particularly bad. But as you say, 1,200 deaths this year or last year, not good enough.

Some of the reasons though, you list them, we need to improve roads and road infrastructure in places, as well as public transport taking people off the roads I suppose. But at one point you mentioned the quality of cars, the safety of cars. Talk us through that.

Darren Chester: Well it is a complex equation. You do need to have safer drivers, so we need to take our responsibility as drivers to do the right thing. Governments have to actually accept responsibility as well for the roads we provide and that is always a challenge and I accept that there’s areas where we can improve that as well. But when it comes to safer cars, it is the choices we make in terms of trying to get people into newer and safer vehicles; as much as we possibly can we need to encourage people to use the safest car they can afford and I fully understand not everyone can afford a brand new car. The point is there are second hand vehicles as well which have a lot of safety features and all the research is telling us that if you are in a safer vehicle there is less likelihood of you being involved in a crash and if you are involved in a crash the chances of reducing the severity of injury are greatly improved. So the comment I’m making there is really do your homework when it comes to purchasing a vehicle, look for the safest car available at the price point that you have got available to you and that can also help to reduce our road trauma.

Michael McLaren: In regard to that, might I put a suggestion to you, and that is that you scrap the luxury car tax because when you look at the safest cars on the road they tend to be offered in that luxury car bracket. These are the brands that basically revolutionise safety procedures, these are the ones that are in the front of the pack. Yep, they are expensive and yes, they are imported, but they also seem to be the safest yet in essence we have a disincentive for people to spend the money on safety because we tax them simply for buying a quote unquote luxury car.

Darren Chester: I think that is a question that we need to look very carefully at because the point has been raised with me several times over the last couple of weeks that I have had this conversation about safer cars. We need to understand that that link between road trauma which is costing the Australian governments across the board in the order of $30 billion every year. If we can reduce the number of crashes and the severity of injuries, there’s obvious benefits to the health budget in terms of less treatment required for people and quite naturally that is an economic consideration. But the social consideration is even vastly more significant where every time there is a car crash the impact is not just on the one person or two or three people involved in the crash it impacts on the person…

Michael McLaren: …the family around them.

Darren Chester: Yes, or the ambos, the police, and the CFA, and the volunteers who respond, and the New South Wales Rural Fire Brigade guys who respond to those sort of circumstances. And then the ripple effect through a community if someone is seriously injured or killed has an impact right across. So, you know it is a complex issue road safety.

Michael McLaren: But it is such a lazy tax though too. It seems to say oh well you have got money, you can afford a BMW, but often Holden’s even come into it and so oh we’ll slug you tax. I mean, it’s very lazy.

Darren Chester: I think the argument too, Michael, in relation to changes and the fact that we don’t have a manufacturing sector in Australia into the future…

Michael McLaren: That too.

Darren Chester: …it means that we can consider all those issues.

The bottom line though is when we talk about road safety we need to keep talking about our own responsibilities and not just about the police and governments. It is about each of us taking responsibilities, the governments need to provide us with decent roads and safe roads, and we need to make the right decisions in terms of buying the safest car that we can afford. Now all of that put together will help to reduce road trauma. It is not going to happen overnight and no one pretends it will and there is no simple solution. But I sincerely believe that we can do a lot better than 1,200 people being killed across Australia in one year.

Michael McLaren: Yes, we should certainly aim to do better. Now look, you are probably going to upset a few people with one paragraph in the article and this is it. You say: let’s stop pretending this is regarding old drivers who might be struggling a bit behind the wheel. You say: let’s stop pretending mum or dad is still okay to drive if they can hardly see past the bonnet and their reflexes are slowing.  If they shouldn’t be on the road, you’re right, don’t wait for police to catch them, have the tough conversation as a family and work out a solution. Some people will hear that or read that and say oh here we go, they’re picking on the oldies again.

Darren Chester: No, not at all, Michael. I’m not trying to pick on the elderly. It is just a simple statement of fact that we are seeing a lot of older people now showing up in our road crash statistics and it is alarming the number of times that older people are being killed and seriously injured on our roads. Some of that has got to come down to the fact that we do have an aging population, I accept that, that is the nature of it but again it is about us taking personal responsibility. If mum or dad or grandma or grandad is unsafe on the roads, the last thing you want to see happen is them being involved in a crash and hurting themselves or hurting someone else. Now, this is not an easy conversation for people to have but rather than have them get involved in a crash and then coming to the attention of police, we need to work together as families to say well how can we help mum or dad or gran or grandad get about their shopping and get about their lives and support them in their transport. If they are not safe to drive themselves, we need to find ways to provide good public transport or other options for them. But this is a real conversation that is going on across Australia right now because we are seeing an increase in the number of older people involved in serious crashes.

Michael McLaren: Good to catch up. Thank you for raising the issue, it is an important and timely one certainly considering the road toll of the last year and let’s hope we can do better this year.

Darren Chester: All the best, Michael. And stay safe on the roads everyone.