Money, vehicles and the Road Toll

I’ve been a little surprised, over the last year or so, at the lack of vitriol from the media about the road toll, especially in the wake of some serious crashes resulting in multiple deaths in a single incident.

In the past these tragedies have had the pundits screaming from their parapets for governments to Do Something.
Never mind if the cause of the accident was already illegal, if the risks were already known, if the solution was economically unviable.
So politicians would take the easy way out and lower speed limits, punish youth and raise penalties.
The Guardian Australia recently took a different track – reporter Elias Visontay put together an interesting article laying the blame for the rising road toll on government policy and COVID.

Visiontay’s article points out the huge rise in popularity of SUVs, the poor condition of our roads and two COVID-related features – both a drop in the usage of public transport and the impatience of drivers as traffic levels return to pre-lockdown levels.
According to Visiontay, “There were 1,204 deaths on Australian roads in the 12 months to 31 March, an almost 6% increase. Of the total deaths, 557 were drivers, up 2.2%, while 189 were passengers, up 3.8%. Pedestrian deaths increased by 22.6%, rising to 163, while motorcyclist deaths climbed 7% to 246.”

The writer blames much of the increases on SUVs protecting the occupants but not other road users (‘children involved in a fatal crash are eight times more likely to have been struck by an SUV’) and people making mistakes once back on the road after lockdowns. I believe the condition of the roads has also played a part, with numerous incidents of bikes being crashed due to our highways and byways being trashed by weather events and a lack of money to fix them.

Indeed, for motorcycle fatalities to have only gone up 7% in the period Visiontay’s writing is what I would call a win – during the pandemic motorcycle sales went ballistic, learner courses were oversubscribed, old bikes were rebuilt and with overseas holidays cancelled the amount of people riding around the Australian countryside soared.

There’s a sobering chart accompanying Visiontay’s article – Road Fatalities from 1970 to 2012, which plots a steep decline in deaths from 1970 before starting to flatten out just before 2000. The basis for the chart is deaths per 100,000 population, and in that period in goes from over 30 to under 10. The next stage, through to 2012, sees the rate drop from 9 to 6. Seems to not be getting much better, right?
It took nearly 30-odd years to drop by two-thirds. In the following 14 years it dropped by one-third… which is the same rate of decline.
We’ve had RBT, seat belts, rider training, improved vehicles, increased penalties, reduced speed limits, ABS, media campaigns, speed cameras and other programs all introduced to reduce the road toll. Maybe we also need better roads, drivers, riders and attitudes.

– Nigel Paterson