Address to the 2014 National Road Safety Forum

Speech

JBS023/2014

22 September 2014

Old Parliament House, Canberra
E&OE

Let me start by thanking you for participating in this important forum.

Your expert advice and input is very much appreciated and I am pleased that you have been able to accept my invitation to share your expertise.

As everyone in this room knows too well, road safety is a complex and emotive issue, which not only impacts on the lives of trauma victims' families, their friends and their communities, but also burdens our hospitals and health care system.

Sadly 1,157 lives were lost on our roads in the last 12 months.

Deaths of older people—65 years and over—increased by 13 per cent.

Despite these figures, we are making progress. The road toll is reducing. Over the last twelve months, there has been a nine per cent reduction in road deaths. In fact, for the first time, the Australian road fatality rate has fallen below five deaths per 100,000 people.

This downward trend is encouraging and it should be used as a catalyst to do even more. Of course, it is not just a matter of reducing the number of serious injuries and lives lost.

The National Road Safety Strategy champions the vision that no person should be killed or seriously injured on Australia's roads. The strategy aims to create a safer road transport system, which can efficiently move people and freight, but does not cause death or serious injury.

Everyone has a role to play in this—from each level of government to every road user.

While the heaviest responsibility for road safety sits with state governments, the Australian Government is conscious of the contribution we can make.

In this respect we are focusing our efforts on where we are able to make the most difference.

This includes:

  1. Building safer roads;
  2. Improving vehicle safety; and
  3. Setting national benchmarks.

Building safer roads

Infrastructure investment should not go understated whenever we talk about road safety policy. There is much to gain by improving our major highways and building new corridors.

The statistics are striking.

For instance, in 1976, there were 71 fatalities and 2,499 crashes on the Hume Highway. Since the duplication of that highway, fatalities and crashes have reduced significantly, to 10 fatalities and 1,062 crashes in 2013—despite a significant increase in traffic.

Since the Pacific Highway upgrade started in the mid-1990s, the number of fatalities occurring each year on the Highway between Hexham and the Queensland border has decreased from over 40 fatalities a year to 20 fatalities in 2012; again, despite traffic substantially increasing.1

The NSW Government has estimated that upgrading the Pacific Highway to dual carriageway will avoid around 1000 fatalities, 7400 injuries and 5400 non-injury accidents in the 43 years between 2007 and 2050, compared to a base case with no capital works from 1994.2

That's 1,000 families and friends who will be spared the trauma of losing a loved one.

There is a similar story on the Bruce Highway. The Royal Automobile Association estimates that 60 per cent of road deaths in Queensland occur on the Bruce Highway. It also estimates that without further upgrades, an additional 350 people will die and 5,000 injured in the next decade.

These are figures you cannot ignore. And it shows that our infrastructure investment programme plays a vital role in our road safety strategy.

Duplicating the Pacific Highway and upgrading the Bruce Highway is not just about improving our productive performance as a nation—it is also about saving lives.

We also recognise that small road improvements can go a long way. That is why we have allocated $229 million to establish the National Highway Upgrade Programme.

This new programme will provide funding for improvements to Australia's key national highway networks through works such as shoulder and centreline widening, ripple strips and wire rope barriers, overtaking lanes, turning lanes and pavement improvements.

The Australian Government is also investing an additional $200 million to fix accident hot spots under the Black Spots Programme, bringing our total commitment to $500 million over the next four years.

The Black Spot programme has been an incredibly successful road safety initiative since its introduction in 1996, delivering improvements to over 6,500 sites around Australia, through almost $1 billion in funding.

A recent evaluation of the Black Spot Programme found that fatal and casualty crashes are reduced at treated sites by 30 per cent, equalling one life per year for every 84 projects.

I am pleased to say that the Government has broadened the eligibility criteria for this programme, making it easier for regional areas to compete for the additional funding and removed limits that restrict the number of projects in each local government area.

Under the changes, the minimum Benefit Cost Ratio will be reduced from 2:1 to 1:1, meaning all selected projects must return at least one dollar to the economy for every dollar invested.

In addition, the crash history requirement for black spots will be reduced from three to two casualty crashes in five years.

Up to 40 per cent of the funding can also be directed to Black Spots that do not meet the crash history criterion, provided they have an independent safety audit.

This change will allow for the proactive treatment of unsafe roads and fix roads that are just accidents waiting to happen.

The Australian Government will also ensure that at least 50 per cent of funding is dedicated to fixing sites in regional Australia where more than 60 per cent of road deaths and 35 per cent of serious injuries occur.

Improving Vehicle Safety

While the Australian Government has no direct responsibility in road rules, licencing arrangements or driver standards, we do determine which new vehicles enter the Australian fleet.

As part of a wider government strategy to reduce red tape, earlier this year I announced a major review of the Motor Vehicle Standards Act to identify options to reduce the regulatory burden on business and consumers, while improving safety outcomes.

This review is very important to our wider road safety strategy.

The Act establishes nationally consistent standards for new motor vehicles entering the Australian market and contributes to the reduction in the rate of deaths and serious injury on Australia's roads.

But the Act was last reviewed 14 years ago. Since then, there have been significant changes in vehicle technology and the motor vehicle manufacturing industry.

It is time we looked at modernising its provisions, definitions and linkages with other legislation to improve efficiency and remove unnecessary red tape.

We need a regulatory system that is in-touch with modern industry best practice, encourages innovation and improves productivity.

Where possible, we will also promote other approaches to regulation to ensure that black and white ‘letter of the law’ rule-making is only undertaken where there is a net public benefit.

I recently released an Options Discussion Paper to encourage public input on possible options for modernising this legislation.

The discussion paper considers all possible reform options including ideas put forward by the Productivity Commission in its report on Australia's Automotive Manufacturing Industry.

The Productivity Commission's proposal to reduce restrictions on second-hand imports is one of many ideas canvassed in the paper.

While the Australian Government understands that this move would potentially reduce the cost of vehicles for consumers, the evidence from New Zealand indicates that it would likely increase the age of the fleet on our roads and therefore diminish safety.

Clearly one of the most important factors in better safety outcomes on our roads is the age of the fleet. In this respect and given the risk of a decline in safety outcomes, we are not inclined to open the Australian market to second hand imports.

On the other hand, and given the move to an international regulatory framework, we are interested in considering options in relation to personal imports of new cars.

Our rationale for considering this measure is to ensure Australian consumers have access to the lowest cost, safest and youngest fleet possible.

This is also part of the Abbott Government's commitment to abolishing unnecessary red tape. And for those who question how cutting red tape will enhance road safety outcomes—let me explain.

Pending the outcomes of the review, I have already initiated a process to accelerate harmonisation of the Australian Design Rules with regulations developed by the United Nations World Forum for Harmonisation of Vehicle Regulation.

This will mean that when the UN regulations are updated, the ADRs are automatically updated.

This move will provide consumers with access to the safest new vehicles from the global market immediately and at the lowest possible cost. It will also mean removing obsolete standards in the ADRs. There are requirements in the ADRs that regulate “lavatory closets, urinals, basins and sinks” and the colour or painting of mudguards, tray bodies and rear bumper bars.

There is just no need for these regulations anymore.

There was also an ADR requirement for mudguard extensions on motorbikes. This may seem a trivial thing, but in many cases it involved design work and retooling, as well as fitment, on a substantial portion of the 70,000 motorcycles entering the Australian market annually. Last week, we removed this requirement, providing savings to manufacturers and consumers of $14.4 million each year.

Application of UN regulations and removal of obsolete content from the ADRs will allow Government and business to better focus their efforts on meeting requirements that actually deliver a road safety benefit, rather than administering or meeting unnecessary processes and requirements.

By reducing meaningless red tape, we will have more time to represent Australian interests and work with the international community as UN Regulations are developed.

In this regard, the Australian Government will continue to make a vigorous contribution to improving vehicle standards. In the near term, this includes:

  • Implementing the Global Technical Regulation on Pole Side Impact;
  • Considering mandating Anti-lock Brake Systems on motorcycles; and
  • Considering mandating Electronic Stability Control on heavy vehicles.

The need for a national approach to heavy vehicle regulation has been highlighted by a recent spate of devastating accidents around the country, including a number of fatal accidents and near misses on the South Eastern Freeway in my home town of Adelaide.

I am working closely with my South Australian counterpart, Minister for Transport Stephen Mullighan, to deliver the right safety solution for the South Eastern Freeway.

Similarly, the Australian Government is working with every state and territory government to make the nation's heavy vehicle fleet safer and more productive through establishment of the Heavy Vehicle National Law and associated National Heavy Vehicle Regulator.

These reforms will continue to be developed and refined over time.

For example, the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator and National Transport Commission are currently looking at ways to make sure that everyone in the supply chain—not just the driver or operator—takes responsibility for ensuring the roadworthiness of our heavy vehicles.

This piece of work holds promise and I expect there will be much more to say on this over the coming months.

Setting National Benchmarks

The third area of focus at the national level is to provide a setting where all levels of government agree on a set of national road safety goals, objectives and action priorities.

While road deaths have generally been on a downward trend in recent years, the gains have not flowed equally to all groups of road users.

The latest available statistics show that deaths of cyclists have increased by an average of 8.6 per cent per year over the past five years, while road deaths overall have decreased by 3.7 per cent per year.

It is vital that Governments work together to turn this trend around.

The Transport Ministers Council has agreed to consider the impacts of Queensland's trial of the ‘one metre matters’ so vigorously campaigned for by the Amy Gillett foundation. Can I congratulate the foundation for their work on raising the profile of the safety of cyclists on our roads.

The reality is that the number of people cycling for recreation or to and from work is increasing at a rapid rate. Where my father's generation bought golf clubs in the early stages of their mid-life crisis, my generation seems instead to be buying the latest Fondriest and squeezing ourselves into lycra.

This means we must ensure that more is done to encourage a greater awareness for all road users of their responsibility to ensure everyone is safe on our roads. Later today, a session will be dedicated to identifying potential solutions for vulnerable road users. I will be very interested to hear what emerges from that discussion and whether these ideas can be taken forward as part of the Australian Government's review of the National Road Safety Strategy.

The current Strategy is aiming to achieve at least a 30 per cent reduction in the numbers of deaths and serious injuries by 2020.

With new and exciting technology coming out, such as automatic breaking technology, I believe we can achieve much more than a 30 per cent reduction.

Today's forum provides an excellent opportunity to explore some of the emerging findings from the mid-term review of the National Road Safety Strategy, which will be completed later this year. The review is not intended to rewrite the 10 year strategy, but to ensure its overall goals and objectives remain appropriate. The review will also help to develop a refreshed set of key national priority actions for the next three years. Transport Ministers will be considering the outcomes of the review at the November meeting of the Transport and Infrastructure Council.

To conclude, I strongly encourage you to be active participants in today's forum and to share your views on the important national issues in road safety.

Every organisation represented in this room has relevant insights and capabilities to bring to the table and an important role to play in delivering a safer road transport system. I invite you to identify and explore opportunities for collaborative action to address those issues.

I'll finish where I started—road safety isn't ‘owned’ by the Government—or by governments collectively.

As a government, we can implement rules and regulations.

Manufactures can implement new safety technology.

But there is no substitute for responsible and safe driving. That is why road safety is everyone's responsibility.

Australia can be proud of its strong record of road safety improvement. But we still have work to do. In many respects, there is no finish line when it comes to road safety. It is a never ending race. There will always be areas we can do better in. And that is why today's forum is so important.

This Government will continue the pursuit of a safer road transport system—working collaboratively with other parties to improve the safety of our roads and vehicles, and helping drivers and other road users to safely share our transport networks.

Once again, I thank all of your for making time to be here today and I hope it will lead to a constructive exchange of information and ideas for collaboration on road safety efforts.

Thank you very much.

1. Australian and NSW Governments 2013, Pacific Highway Upgrade—Six month report card (July—December 2013)
2. NSW Government 2011, Pacific Highway Upgrade—Submission to Infrastructure Australia