NOW we are nearly all safely home after the holidays, it is a good time to look at what might be done to make next holidays safer.
I wrote “nearly all” because 2000 people did not get back home safely – they were seriously injured in traffic crashes, or did not arrive home at all.
Most safety experts agree we should tackle the problem on several fronts: safer cars; better roads; driver education; better policing; and one other factor I’ll mention anon.
We can well afford to. Road crashes cost at least $20 billion a year, leaving aside the human suffering.
So the usual accusations of “revenue raising” directed at Chief Minister Jon Stanhope’s proposal this month for point-to-point speed cameras was misplaced. Speed and red-light cameras are not revenue raisers. They are expenditure reducers. A large portion of the $20 billion comes out of government coffers: public hospitals, rescue; rehabilitation; disabled pensions and so on. The most recent Bureau of Transport Economics paper suggests about a fifth of the cost is borne by government
To the extent speed cameras reduce speeding and road crashes, they save government money. To take the argument to the extreme, if speed cameras were so blanketed as to ensure total compliance with speed limits, they would raise no revenue. But they would cut the road toll by at least a third – a saving of more than $1 billion a year to Australian taxpayers.
The point-to-point cameras have a further advantage: they are fairer to motorists. This is the critical other factor in reducing road deaths and injuries.
Unless the vast bulk of motorists see traffic enforcement as fair and reasonable, we will never get the sort of changes in attitude we have seen in the past two decades on things like smoking and industrial safety. If unsafe conduct carries general opprobrium, fewer humans will engage in it. It is human nature to seek approval of peers.
Twenty or 30 years ago, only “sissies” used ear muffs or mouth filters on industrial sites. Now peer pressure is the other way.
The point-to-point cameras take an average speed between two points. They are less likely to capture a moment’s inadvertence and more like to capture sustained culpability and are therefore fairer.
Heavier penalties, particularly for low-end offences (like NSW’s three-point loss for speeding below 15km/h), are counter-productive because they drive people into the “revenue-raising” camp instead of building up community attitudes that all speeding is unacceptable.
But often drivers do not know what the limit is. They have driven through so many zones they forget, get confused or are mistaken.
Enter Intelligent Speed Adaptation. Australia has been a leader. About four years ago George Germanos – spurred by an fine resulting from a mistake over the speed limit — decided to map Australia’s speed limits and put them on a navigation system that would warn drivers when they were speeding – either filling the screen with a red warning or putting out a warning beep.
The Navig8r system has just come on to the market. It can be updated regularly over the net for small fee. A mobile-phone system which updates automatically when it is turned on is on its way. All cities, major towns and highways have been done and the rest is being done.
In some systems, fuel flow to the engine is reduced to bring the car back to the speed limit, with an override for emergencies.
Other technologies to overcome poor driving are on the way, such as sensors to slow tail-gating cars and electronic stability control. The latter automatically brake or add power to a wheel to bring an out-of-control car back to the straight and narrow.
Stability control is an element in safety ratings by the Australasia New Car Assessment Program, which is perhaps best known for its crash-testing and rating of new cars.
Some manufacturers worry about these things because they add cost or their cars are shown up as less safe. But other manufacturers know a good rating and extra safety gear can add to salability.
Another worry is that the federal-state uniform system for new-car approvals has a tendency to cater for the requirements of the weakest state and might prevent a state taking the lead on new-car standards. Victoria has been champing at the bit to make some of these technologies compulsory.
It is no good having uniform safety laws if they are uniformly low.
Outside new-car approval at least it is possible for a state or territory to go it alone and push the safety barrow. Stanhope, for example, is thinking of New-Zealand style tough messages like “Drink Drive – Die in a Ditch”.
Here is a wish list for between now and next summer:
People thinking of buying a new car should go to ANCAP.com.au to check the car’s crash rating. Survival is worth paying for.
Drivers should think about installing the Navig8r system in existing cars. It costs no more than other systems without the speed-advice system.
Governments should make stability control and intelligent-speed-adaptation systems compulsory in new cars.
Governments should adopt the star rating system for roads, however embarrassing it might be. The embarrassment of a two-star rating for parts of the road between Sydney and Brisbane or the capital and the coast might spur some action.
Governments should be more ambitious in road-toll targets. Stanhope’s target of 10 is commendable, but with a road system as good as the ACT’s and Australia’s highest educated population, why not aim for a zero toll? And for the rest of the country to follow suit.
We have about 20 billion reasons for doing so.