OPINION - A slower and safer Easter

The Sydney Morning Herald

Thursday 27 March 1997

By Harold Scruby

Harold Scruby is chairman of the Pedestrian Council of Australia Limited

It's only when speeding is regarded with the same disdain as drink driving that road deaths will fall.

The State Government deserves full credit for its initiative, "Double Points for Speeding Over Easter". The Pedestrian Council has been advocating this approach for a long time.

Increasing fines for speeding is not the answer. Fines are discriminatory. The rich are in a better position to pay them and they are soon forgotten. Demerit points are non-discriminatory and have a far greater impact on driver behaviour. But more needs to be done.

The demerit point system in NSW is utterly inconsistent and in urgent need of review. Drive up a one-way street the wrong way, change lanes without using an indicator, park in a pedestrian crossing or use a hand-held mobile phone while driving - no demerit points. Yet fail to fasten your seatbelt - three points. Exceed the speed limit by between 15 and 29 km/h (anywhere) - only one demerit point.

In September 1995, the Premier, Mr Carr, stated: "The RTA has set itself an ambitious, but, I am advised, an achievable goal - to make NSW roads the safest in the world by the year 2000."

The road toll in NSW for January was double that of January 1996. Each year about 2,000 people die on our roads. Apart from the grief and suffering, the costs of road trauma are estimated at $6 billion a year.

There are two major killers on our roads - alcohol and speed. There has been a dramatic cultural shift in the community's attitude to drink-driving over the past decade. It is now considered utterly irresponsible.

Speeding is culturally different but equally deadly. Now is the time to make it as socially unacceptable as drink-driving.

We inhibit the police in their enforcement of speed laws by requiring them to obtain the permission of a tripartite committee on where they can use speed cameras. Then the RTA is required to erect signs stating "Speed cameras used in this area". This is as absurd as erecting signs stating "Speed cameras not used in this area".

In Victoria, police are left unfettered to operate their speed cameras where they wish. And there are no warning signs. Just as the random placement of the "booze bus" has dramatically reduced drink-driving offences, it is the element of surprise which will slow us down.

In Victoria, if one exceeds the speed limit by 30 km/h, there is automatic cancellation of licence. In NSW it's 45 km/h, or the equivalent of 105 km/h through a shopping centre.

It is vital that we accept that a driver's licence is a privilege, not a right. Those who continue to flout our laws deserve to lose their licences - perhaps for life.

Let's have the guts to adopt radical change. And let's return residential streets to pedestrians: 50 km/h and the pedestrian has right of way. Why not? We were here first.