It’s devastating every time someone dies or is seriously injured on our roads. As road safety advocates, it’s also frustrating to listen to decision makers tell you that they have solutions, but won’t act because of worries about community pushback.
Yet this is exactly what we heard at last Friday’s TAC Road Safety Summit in Melbourne.
The ‘emergency’ summit was called by the Minister for Roads and Road Safety Jaala Pulford to address the alarming number of fatalities and serious injuries on Victorian roads in the first half of 2019.
Already, 137 people have been killed on our roads this year; compared with 88 at the same time last year. Five of those fatalities have been people riding bikes; compared to only one last year. As it stands, Victoria is on track to record its worst road toll in 14 years.
When something is called an emergency, it implies serious danger which needs immediate action in order to stop or avoid further harm.
To their credit, the TAC and Victorian Government convened the summit to bring together more than 100 key stakeholders, researchers and leaders in road safety and enforcement.
Before the road safety summit, Minister Pulford made a strong statement in the Herald Sun, “We will leave no stone unturned in stopping people being killed or seriously injured.”
Unfortunately, Minister Pulford was unable to attend due to family circumstances but Police Minister Lisa Neville attended for the whole afternoon. Noticeable absentees to the summit were the Premier and Deputy Premier.
For three hours, we heard about the government’s commitment to splash cash on mobile speed cameras, new generation safety cameras to combat distracted driving, and the effective roll out of flexible wire rope safety barriers.
We learned of the mounting road trauma crisis on high-speed, poorly maintained regional secondary roads and we heard how improved vehicle standards and technologies in Europe have saved 7,300 lives and prevented 38,900 serious injuries. When it comes to similar technologies closer to home, Australia still has a very long way to go.
Speed also came up as one of the greatest risk factors on our roads. Johan Strandorth from the TAC and Sweden’s Trafikverket told the summit that speed reduction was one of the easiest ways to reduce road trauma and fatalities.
Swedish expert at the Vic road safety summit says it’s easy to reduce fatalities, just reduce speed - looking forward to someone in Vic standing up and making this happen
— Craig Richards (@richobicycle) May 31, 2019
It’s a message that many in road safety, including Bicycle Network, have been advocating and pushing for years.
It was made clear to summit attendees that reduced speeds alongside safer vehicle standards will save many lives and can be implemented quickly.
So we have to ask, what’s the hold up on implementing measures that we know will save lives today?
Panel member Professor Narelle Haworth from the Centre for Accident Research and Safety in Brisbane put it best - “To fix roads costs money, to fix speeds costs votes.”
As more people die or are seriously injured on our roads, that’s an unacceptable excuse.
Prof Haworth at the road safety summit says she believes Australians value time saved getting there faster more than the time lost with those hurt or killed - gulp
— Bicycle Network (@bicycle_network) May 31, 2019
In Victoria, we have a newly elected state government, backed by voters for another consecutive term. This alone should be a mandate to make the brave and sometimes unpopular decisions we need to save lives.
For years, Victoria has been heralded as a national and even global leader in road safety. When it came to seat belts, roadside breath tests and interlocks, Victoria courageously lead the way.
We must move away from merely coping with road trauma to making the bold decisions needed to address it. Community resistance and media backlash should not be a reason to not do what’s right, especially when it’s supported by evidence.
We hoped that the summit was going to be a trigger to deliver what the state’s road network really needs. But with no concrete outcomes other than a much-needed new road safety strategy, we’re worried.
Don’t forget, the government itself has declared that when it comes to road trauma, Victoria is in a state of emergency.
We need our politicians to stand strong against the naysayers. We also need our major media outlets, like the Herald Sun, to show the same leadership it did back in 1970 when it lead the way by declaring war on 1034 (the lives lost on the roads in a year back then). With their reach and influence, we need them to be our Toward Zero hero.
It clear that slower speeds, better infrastructure and safer vehicle standards will save lives. Anything less will see more Victorians die on our roads and that is unacceptable.
Take action - send a quick message
As the government looks for ways to address the state's alarming road toll and set a new road safety strategy, it's important to let them know that as a community we value the lives of our friends, family and neighbours over getting somewhere quickly.