Statement on Road Safety – Federation Chamber
I rise today to speak about the national road toll and the recent disturbing increase in the number of fatalities, particularly in the calendar year 2016.
The effectiveness and safety of our transport system impacts on every citizen. We rely on our roads for almost every part of what is routine daily living. Whether it be in the areas of education, health, defence, and so many other areas, our road system plays a crucial role in ensuring that our society continues to function. In many ways, our roads and the effect and impact they have on our living are somewhat under-appreciated—that is, until they have a personal and negative effect. For instance, we notice the road transport system when we are late for work or an appointment because we are stuck in traffic congestion, the trade of our business is restricted because the roads are unable to provide adequate capacity for growth or when we are involved in some sort of traffic incident.
But by far and away the most confronting and devastating involvement we can have with our road transport system is when we are in some way touched by the tragedy of a serious or fatal traffic crash. Involvement in these terrible crashes does not discriminate. You or your family can be maimed or killed regardless of age, gender, sexuality or race. These crashes bring with them terrible physical and emotional pain but the greatest tragedy is that every one of them is avoidable.
But the news is not all bad. We need only look back to 1970 to see the progress we have made. In that year 3,798 people were killed on our roads whilst there were 4.7 million vehicles registered. If that ratio was applied to today’s 18 million registered vehicles we would see an annual road toll of 14,300 people being killed every year. As a citizen I am grateful that previous generations of road builders, vehicle manufacturers and legislators have taken road safety seriously, achieving some great progress. The reason these shocking figures are not a reality today is that as a society we have applied ourselves to engineering safer roads—design standards and technological advancements have put safer cars on safer roads; and our legislators have implemented laws to address drink driving, the wearing of seat belts, speeding and fatigue.
Medical treatment for those who sustain a serious injury from a traffic crash has also improved immensely. In more recent times we have embarked on the National Road Safety Strategy, which aims to reduce fatalities and serious injuries by at least 30 per cent between 2011 and 2020. Until recently, by working in partnership with the states and territories adopting the Safe System approach, we were on track to achieve our NRSS targets. But in 2016, 1,300 people lost their lives on our roads. This is a 7.9 per cent increase on the 2015 road toll and represents the loss of an additional 95 lives on the previous year.
The federal government is committed to combating the road toll by supporting practical measures including investing to build safer roads, improving vehicle safety standards, funding for the independent car safety ratings program, and our Keys2Drive learner driver initiative. In Wide Bay, we are fixing the Cooroy to Curra stretch of the Bruce Highway, one of the deadliest and most notorious sections of the national highway. I have investigated some of the most horrific accidents there and I am deeply aware of how important this upgrade is and how many fatalities it will prevent. With projections for traffic through Gympie of 36,000 vehicles per day in 2023, we will soon need section D to avoid returning to the horror of crashes that were inflicted on Gympie before the four lanes were installed under a decade ago.
In my previous career as a police officer too often I dealt with the devastation of fatal accidents. Too many times I have seen life slip away before me at a fatal crash. Too many times I have been the person who has had to deliver the worst news possible to families. Now I desperately want to be a member of a government that contributes to saving lives on our roads. But the message everyone needs to remember is that road safety is everyone’s responsibility.