Ministerial Statement: Progress on Road Safety

Speech

JBS024/2014

02 December 2014

Parliament House, Canberra

Madam Speaker, I would like to report to the Parliament on the Australian Government's progress on improving road safety.

This is the third such statement since the National Road Safety Strategy was inaugurated in 2011, in collaboration with the states and territories.

As we all know, road safety is a complex and emotive issue.

Almost everyone has been, or will be, affected by a death or serious injury on our roads.

Every road casualty impacts on the lives of victims' families, their friends and their communities.

And it also places a great burden on our hospitals and health care system.

Road Trauma Report

At the last election, the Government made a commitment to commission a report on the impact of road trauma.

The report, released today, shows that road trauma remains a huge cost to the nation, at an estimated $27 billion per year.

This is the equivalent of 18 per cent of health expenditure and 1.8 per cent of Gross Domestic Product.

While these figures are confronting, we are making significant progress.

Each year we are seeing a steady reduction in road deaths.

For the first time since national statistics began in 1925, the population rate of road deaths in Australia has fallen to five deaths per 100,000 people.

This is the lowest rate on record—a major milestone when you consider that the number of vehicles on our roads has increased from 300,000 to over 17.6 million.

While these figures are encouraging, they will mean very little to a family member, or a friend, of someone who has died or been seriously injured on our roads.

The reality is that almost 1,000 people have died on our roads so far this year.

Every life lost on our roads is a tragedy and the Government is committed to doing more to further reduce the road toll.

The National Road Safety Strategy champions the vision that no person should be killed or seriously injured on Australia's roads.

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

While state governments carry core responsibility for road safety, the Australian Government can make a valuable contribution by building better roads, improving vehicle safety, and driving a coordinated approach.

Building Safer Roads

When we talk about infrastructure investment, we tend to focus on the productivity benefits, overlooking the safety outcomes.

The safety benefits generated from better roads should not be underestimated.

For instance, duplication of the Hume Highway has reduced annual fatalities by 85 per cent, and cut annual crashes from 2,499 in 1976 down to1,062 in 2013.

Similarly, fatalities have been halved on the Pacific Highway since upgrades began in the mid-1990s.

The New South Wales Government has estimated that upgrading the Pacific Highway to dual carriageway will prevent 1000 deaths and 7400 injuries.

The Government's record $50 billion investment in infrastructure will deliver new corridors in all major cities, making a massive difference to road safety.

The Perth Freight Link in WA is expected to remove tens of thousands of vehicles a day from the surrounding road network.

Similarly, the WestConnex project in New South Wales is expected to remove 3,000 trucks a day from Parramatta Road.

Each of these investments will save lives and reduce road trauma, not only on these major highways, but also on the nearby local road network.

Road safety benefits will similarly flow from our investments in the North South Corridor in Adelaide, the Gateway Motorway North in Brisbane, the East West Link in Melbourne and the Midland Highway in Tasmania.

Our additional investments also recognise that small changes can go a long way in delivering safety outcomes.

That is why we have allocated $229 million to establish the National Highway Upgrade Programme.

This new programme will improve Australia's key national highway networks by funding the types of minor works recommended by today's report on road trauma.

We are also investing an additional $200 million in the Black Spot Programme, bringing our total commitment to $500 million over the next five years.

This programme has been an incredibly successful road safety initiative since its introduction in 1996.

A recent evaluation of the 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 updated the programme's eligibility criteria, making it easier for local communities to secure funding.

These changes will ensure that black spot funding reaches our most dangerous roads, with at least 50 per cent of black spot funding earmarked for regional Australia, where more than 60 per cent of road deaths occur.

The Government has also updated the programme to encourage the treatment of known hot spots, before they cause accidents and take lives.

Improving Vehicle Safety

Madam Speaker, advances in vehicle technology will play a vital role in reducing road trauma.

Globally, vehicle technology is on the edge of major transformations which will reduce the road toll exponentially.

For instance, autonomous emergency braking systems are expected to save over 1200 lives and prevent 54,000 hospitalised injuries by 2033.

Critically, these improvements will be of key benefit to cyclists and pedestrians—some of our most vulnerable road users who are over represented in road toll figures.

While this progress is being driven by industry, the Government will have a key role in promoting this technology in Australia.

Although the Australian Government has no direct control over road rules, we do determine which new vehicles enter the Australian fleet under the Motor Vehicles Standards Act.

Motor Vehicle Standards Act

In recent years, sections of the Act have become outdated as significant changes in vehicle technology and vehicle manufacturing have taken place.

We need an efficient regulatory system that encourages innovation, improves productivity and provides for competition.

This is why I announced a major review of the Motor Vehicle Standards Act.

The Review will be focused on reducing the regulatory burden on business, and ensuring that consumers have access to the safest cars, at the lowest possible cost.

I released a Discussion Paper earlier this year and have been working closely with stakeholders to refine the options for reform.

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

While such a move might reduce the cost of second-hand cars, the evidence from New Zealand suggests that it would certainly increase the age of our fleet and therefore diminish safety.

As I have said before, and will repeat in the House, the Government is not inclined to open the Australian market to second-hand imports.

However, given the move to international standards and changes in manufacturing, it is worthwhile to look at options for the personal importation of new cars.

Consideration of this reform will be underpinned by a commitment to provide Australian consumers with access to the lowest cost, safest and youngest fleet possible.

I welcome an open debate on all options for reform, and have invited all stakeholders to put forward their ideas for change.

Harmonising with International Standards

Pending the outcomes of this Review, I have initiated a process to accelerate harmonisation of Australian Design Rules with international standards.

Harmonisation will keep our standards in line with international best practice.

This move will provide consumers with access to the safest new vehicles from the global market immediately and at the lowest possible cost.

The automatic adoption of UN Regulations will also remove unnecessary layers of bureaucracy, reducing red tape for the long term.

And by reducing meaningless red tape, we will have more time to 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 internationally.

Heavy Vehicle Safety

Madam Speaker, the need for a national approach to heavy vehicle regulation has been highlighted by a recent spate of devastating accidents around the country.

This includes a number of fatal accidents and near misses on the South Eastern Freeway in my home town of Adelaide.

I am working closely with the South Australian Government to deliver the right safety solution for the South Eastern Freeway.

Similarly, the Australian Government is working with every jurisdiction to improve heavy vehicle safety through establishment of a National Heavy Vehicle Law and Regulator.

The new laws are important because they provide a consistent set of rules across key areas including road access, driver fatigue and vehicle safety.

It provides users and operators with greater confidence and certainty of their obligations.

This landmark reform will continue to develop over time and will deliver ongoing reductions in the red-tape encountered by heavy vehicle operators who work across multiple jurisdictions.

Coordinating Effort

Madam Speaker, a third area of focus for the Australian Government is the setting of national road safety goals, objectives and action priorities.

As I have noted, road deaths have been on a downward trend in recent years.

However, the gains have not flowed equally to all road users.

The latest available statistics show that the deaths of cyclists are only increasing.

While the overall road toll has decreased by 3.7 per cent per year, cyclist deaths have risen by around 7.4 per cent year on year over the past five years.

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

Transport Ministers in all states and territories have agreed to consider implementing a minimum one metre overtaking distance for cars passing cyclists, informed by the outcomes of Queensland's current trial.

I welcome this commitment, and the ACT Government's recent decision to make this change more immediately.

I commend the Amy Gillett Foundation for having so vigorously campaigned for the ‘one metre matters’ message and cycling safety more broadly—a contribution well-recognised by the Australasian College of Road Safety which recently awarded the Foundation its highest honour in Road Safety.

I would like to welcome the ongoing effort of various groups who champion road safety across Australia.

The tireless work of these stakeholders—too many to mention today—will remain integral to preventing tragedy on Australia's roads.

Road Safety Action Plan

Madam Speaker, the Government recently led a major, mid-term review of the National Road Safety Strategy, culminating in a new three-year Action Plan endorsed by all Transport Ministers.

The Action Plan sets a number of priorities which will refocus effort on delivering road safety outcomes.

This includes a number of actions for the Australian Government.

Key amongst these are several actions which will improve vehicle safety.

First, the Government is pursuing improved side impact protection—a significant reform which Australia led through the United Nations.

The Government is also committed to mandating anti-lock brake systems for new motorcycles and electronic stability control for new heavy vehicles.

Combined, these actions will save hundreds of lives and prevent thousands of serious injuries.

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

National fatality numbers are now 17.4 per cent below the Strategy baseline—putting us well on track to achieving this reduction target.

But with concerted effort, I believe we can achieve much more than a 30 per cent reduction.

Conclusion

Madam Speaker, Australia has a commendable record of road safety achievement stretching back over four decades.

But we cannot afford to be complacent.

As I said at the recent National Road Safety Forum held here in Canberra, road safety is not ‘owned’ by the Australian Government—or by governments collectively.

As a government, we set the rules where they are needed and ensure business settings are right for innovation.

Manufacturers can implement new safety technology, and Governments can improve roads and road rules.

But there is no substitute for responsible and safe driving.

Road safety is, and will continue to be, everyone's responsibility.

With Christmas almost upon us, this is a timely reminder for everyone to drive safely and take extra care during this busy period.

Too often the festive season turns into tragedy. If you are planning travel over the holiday period, please take care.

By being responsible we can all remember this Christmas as a time of togetherness and not tragedy.

Thank you Madam Speaker.