Safe enough on the road, but there's danger afoot

The Sydney Morning Herald

Tuesday 19 December 2000

Australians are relatively safe on the roads compared to other countries - until they step outside their vehicles, according to a study by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau.

While Australia compared favourably with OECD nations in terms of overall road safety the record for pedestrians and motorcyclists over the past decade was not so flattering.

The figures are confirmed by the latest NSW statistics, which show that 565 people have been killed on the State's roads this year compared with 549 in 1999. There have been increases in deaths of drivers (seven), passengers (five), motorcyclists (two) and pedestrians (seven).

The ATSB report measured the number of pedestrian deaths per 100,000 population and deaths per 10,000 registered vehicles.

It found Australia ranked worse than Britain, Sweden, Switzerland, New Zealand, Norway, the Netherlands, Italy, France and Canada, though better than Korea, Japan, the United States and Ireland.

"Comparison of pedestrian fatalities in Australia with those of other OECD nations suggests considerable scope to improve the safety of Australian pedestrians," it concluded.

"On both measures, Australia's pedestrian road safety improved considerably over the decade or so before 1997, but this fell short of the OECD's improvement. The high-risk groups of Australian pedestrians are young adults and the elderly".

In motorcycle fatalities, Australia ranked even worse - the sixth worst record of the 23 OECD nations - ahead of only France, Portugal, Greece, the United Kingdom and Korea.

"It might be conjectured that the relatively poor status of motorcycle safety in Australia stems from differences in the culture of motorcycle road safety or from the differences in the road environment, but this remains unclear," the report said.

The results were better in terms of overall road safety performance, with Australia recording 1.5 deaths for each 10,000 registered vehicles, compared to the OECD median of two.

However, since the statistics were calculated in 1997, Australia's annual improvement has stagnated, and the toll is on the way up.

High-profile road safety activist Mr Harold Scruby called for the establishment of a ministerial road safety council in which independent experts would report to relevant ministers.

"These figures are shocking and again prove that the State Government's promises of NSW having the safest roads in the world by the year 2000 were simply a farce," he said.

"Here we have a Federal Government which promises billions of dollars for roads, and never mentions a footpath."