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Grim start to 2003 as two die on New Year's Day

Sydney Morning Herald

Thursday 2 January 2003

Joseph Kerr Transport Reporter

At least two people have already been killed on NSW roads in 2003 in two separate accidents.
As the Roads and Traffic Authority put the provisional 2002 road toll at 571, a male motorbike rider died at Bega and a two-car collision near Taree cost an elderly woman her life.

This pushed the state's Christmas toll (measured from the Friday before Christmas Day to the Friday after New Year's Day) to 12, according to South Australian police, who are coordinating the latest national figures. The final holiday toll won't be available until the end of the official holiday period at 11.59pm tomorrow.

Last year's final Christmas tally was 22, and 38 people died in the same period in 2000-01, according to Australian Transport Safety Bureau figures.

While the final total may be adjusted, the 571 toll for 2002 reported by the RTA was the third lowest figure since 1949 and follows a record low in 2001 and the second lowest in 1998.

NSW statistics from the bureau show road deaths rising from 561 in 1950 to about 1300 a year in the 1970s before falling in the 1980s and 1990s as successive road safety campaigns and legal and technological improvements began to take effect.

But the number of deaths has levelled at between 500 and 600 a year since the mid-1990s.

The chief executive of the RTA, Paul Forward, said the Christmas toll was among the lowest in nearly 20 years. "Double demerits have been an important factor in keeping the holiday toll down, with the current 13-day period the longest ever," he said.

The number of drivers killed in 2002 was up though passenger deaths were down. Fatal crashes that involved heavy vehicles rose 35 per cent and speed was a factor in 46 per cent of road deaths.

Alcohol and seatbelts remained big culprits, prompting the chairman of NSW's Staysafe Committee, Grant McBride, to criticise people for failing to wear seatbelts.

"When you consider all modern cars have seatbelts, that's just something that should never happen," Mr McBride said.

The chairman of the Pedestrian Council of Australia, Harold Scruby, said it was "quite unacceptable" that nine out of every 100,000 people lost their lives on the roads each year.