Building better roads can change lives—and save lives

Opinion Piece

DCO-001/2016

17 March 2016

In the past 45 years, Australia has cut its road toll by more than 2500 deaths per year but there's no time for complacency.

As we approach the Easter holiday period, a time notorious for horrific loss of life and injuries on our roads, we must make a renewed national effort to reduce road trauma.

In 1970, it is hard to believe that 3800 Australians lost their lives on our roads. Road safety experts credit the introduction of state laws regarding compulsory wearing of seat-belts, drink driving and speed restrictions for much of the reduction. Vehicle technology improvements and better roads have also played a role along with mass media campaigns and police enforcement efforts.

But the national toll of 1206 killed in 2015 remains a public health crisis costing the economy up to $30 billion a year, and immeasurable social harm. Alarmingly the trend in many states this year is heading in the wrong direction.

The figures can never tell the entire story of road trauma and we have a shared responsibility to improve road safety outcomes. This must be a partnership: it's not up to police or governments, it's up to us all to do our bit to reduce the road toll.

All levels of government need to keep investing in better roads and addressing accident black spots to alleviate congestion in our cities and improve safety in regional areas. Investing in quality transport infrastructure can change people's lives and in many cases, it can save people's lives.

The Federal Government has achieved record investments in improving the nation's road infrastructure despite the constrained budgetary circumstances we inherited. Our $50 billion investment in infrastructure is focused on delivering new road corridors in all our major cities and vastly improving regional road networks.

We have to keep educating drivers about the benefits of purchasing cars with high safety rankings. The Federal Government has been active in encouraging private businesses to maximise safety considerations in their vehicle fleet purchases and has led the way by insisting on five-star vehicles in the public service.

Finally, we must remain eternally vigilant on improving driver behaviour and accepting personal responsibility for our own safety on the roads.

As a father, I have sat in the passenger seat over the past three years and helped coach my daughters as they learn the skills of becoming safer drivers. I've tried to pass on the safe driving tips I've learned to keep me accident-free for 30 years and emphasised their responsibility to themselves and other road users.

I'm sure they won't drink and drive but who knows if they will remember the little things like locking their mobile phones in the glove-box when they're driving to avoid the possible life-ending distraction of an insignificant text message?

We need to keep the conversation going and remind our loved ones about safe driving and our own responsibilities to other road users.

There's no single answer but we must not become accepting of 1200 deaths per year as a price we have to pay for modern transport.

As the new Federal Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, I'm determined to keep working to reduce road fatalities and serious injuries.

Safer drivers, in safer cars on safer roads: it is a safe system approach that will achieve the best results.