The Turkish Weekly - Sunday 21 August, 2005

The high cost of car carnage - Community pays for tragedies

By Markus Mannheim
THE revenue collected in taxes from Canberra motorists is less than the cost of road crashes to the ACT community.

The tragedies cost about $1000 for every vehicle registered in the ACT.

With the capital's road toll careering towards its highest total in years - it now stands at 18 - the Canberra Sunday Times has collected estimates of the hidden costs of crashes to the community.

Across Australia, traffic accidents are likely to cost more than $18 billion this year in health care and rehabilitation, damage to roads and infrastructure, legal costs, lost time and revenues, and the use of police, emergency and other services.

In the ACT, a report by consultants Sinclair, Knight, Merz on the impact of accidents in 1999, a year in which 19 people died on our roads, estimated the total cost was $215 million, in 2005 dollars.

Yet this year, Canberra motorists are expected to pay less than that amount - about $200 million - in road taxes such as fuel excise, registration and licence fees.

The estimates prompted the Pedestrian Council of Australia to demand that drivers pay a higher share of the true cost of crashes.

The council's chairman, Harold Scruby, said it was absurd for the community to continue to subsidise the dangers of driving. "You have to start making it much more expensive for those who are causing this trauma," he said. "And you have to start getting them off the road."

Mr Scruby said governments had two options: raise more revenue from every driver to cover the "out-of-control costs" of road crashes, or target those who were not obeying the law.

"I don't know whether [the first option is] politically possible," he said.

"So we have to start saying to drivers, 'If you drive this way, or if you drink drive, you will lose your car'."

According to Mr Scruby, about 10 per cent of ACT motorists are likely to be driving without a licence - a similar proportion to that in NSW. These drivers are between eight and 10 times more likely than other drivers to be in crashes.

Mr Scruby called on the ACT Government to consider a New Zealand-style penalty system that would allow police to sell the cars of unlicensed drivers who re- offended.

"These people are the lowlife of the roads," Mr Scruby said. "They don't give a stuff about anybody else. These penalties have proved very effective [in New Zeeland].

"It's one of the most effective ways of getting recidivists off the roads."

The Minister for Urban Services, John Hargreaves, said that while the cost of crashes to the community and government was high, it was important not to get "hung up" on statistics.

"The real cost is human life - the fact that everyone who dies in an accident is someone's loved one," he said.

"This year we have seen the tragic deaths of [18] people that we cared for and loved, and whose deaths have left holes in their families and friends' lives."