The national road toll fell to its lowest level in 89 years in 2013 but more than 200,000 people are expected to be injured on Australian roads between now and 2020.
VICTORIAN ROAD TOLL LOWEST IN 90 YEARS
NSW ROAD TOLL LOWEST IN 89 YEARS
Injury rates are not falling as dramatically and are a bigger financial burden on the community because of the ongoing medical treatment.
“Australia is simply not the world leader in road safety it portrays itself to be,” says Prof Johnston.
“Road deaths are only the tip of the iceberg, there are about 30,000 serious injuries a year,” said Professor Johnston. “We’ve got to put the focus on the 30,000 injuries, not on the 1200 deaths.”
Professor Johnston said the community has become complacent about road safety “because we’re forever told the number of people killed on the roads is coming down”.
He says the current levels of speed enforcement need to be maintained, but using fines to lower the road toll “has almost reached its limit” and more needs to be done to address other causes of car crashes.
“We do need a high level of enforcement but I am totally opposed to governments that use speed enforcement as, and I hesitate to use the words, revenue raising,” said Professor Johnston.
“The money from speeding fines goes straight into consolidated revenue and I’m totally opposed to that. Instead, let’s put every dollar we collect straight back into the road system.”
“Almost everybody gets a driving licence these days, and all levels of skill are out there,” said Professor Johnston.
“If we taught the whole community to play golf, we’re really asking them never to slice, never to hook, never to miss a putt, it’s ridiculous when you think of it like that.”
Professor Johnston said inattention and poor judgment were just as big a killer on the roads as speeding.
“They see a car, they misjudge how fast it’s approaching at an intersection and a lot of the time they get away with these errors,” he said. “But sometimes they don’t and there are tragic consequences.”
The government focus on speed enforcement has lulled drivers into a false sense of security, the Professor warned.
Professor Johnston is the co-author of a book released this week called: ‘Eliminating Serious Injury and Death from Road Transport, A Crisis of Complacency’.
“Just because you’re not speeding doesn’t necessarily mean you’re driving safely,” he said. “There are many other causes of serious injury and fatal crashes that aren’t being addressed.”
Professor Johnston said the media was caught up in the government’s message of portraying speed as the biggest killer on our roads.
“The crashes we see on television are all the dramatic ones, and by showing us those images all the time we come to believe it’s only hoons who are the problem,” said Professor Johnston.
“The reality is there are so many other factors in serious injury and fatal crashes that authorities, and for that matter the media, are not paying attention to.”
Professor Johnston says because it is hard to enforce fines for driver error, governments need to spend more on building safer roads and upgrading older ones.
“Governments will tell you they’re spending billions on roads but the reality is it is very difficult to accurately measure how much is spent on making the roads safer,” said Professor Johnston.
“Governments will say that resurfacing a road makes it safer. That may be true but they neglect to mention that stretch of road still lacks barriers that stop people from hitting trees, or that the dangerous or poorly marked intersection hasn’t been addressed.”
Professor Johnston said failure to invest sufficiently in safer roads will see almost a quarter of a million Australians injured between now and 2020, “and that’s unacceptable”.
“We wouldn’t accept those numbers in any other mode of transport,” he said.
Professor Johnston praised the work of police and said current enforcement levels should be maintained, but more needed to be done to address the road safety issues beyond speed.
“I want to see governments accept responsibility for building safer roads. If the community understood the size of the problem, there’d be more pressure on governments.”
Professor Johnston said it is cheaper and more profitable for governments to enforce the law and fine drivers than it is to build safer roads.
“We’ve taken police enforcement almost as far as we can, and we’ve got to maintain it. But you can’t regulate against inattention and bad judgment,” he said.
“We’ve got to start thinking about other causes of car crashes. The community needs to say ‘we will not accept this any more’ then governments can start investing in roads and other safety measures.”
Professor Johnston was the director of the Monash University Accident Centre from 2000 to 2006. He is now the Adjunct Professor at Monash University’s Injury Research Institute.
news.com.au 2 Apr 2014