Calls for tougher road rules

This is a transcript of AM broadcast at 08:00 AEST on local radio.

AM - Wednesday, January 8, 2003 8:26
LINDA MOTTRAM: Widely lauded though it is, Australia's achievements in reducing the national road death toll by more than half over the last 25 years still leaves about 2,000 Australians dead each year on the roads.

And now there's a call for more draconian road rules, after a new report from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau showed that Australia ranks eighth out of 27 developed countries in terms of the number of road fatalities.

The Federal Government says it's not good enough, as calls are again sounded for a much tougher approach.

Tanya Nolan reports.

TANYA NOLAN: It's something we're regularly reminded of every Christmas-New Year season. The holiday road toll. And this year it's being regarded as a relatively low figure. Sixty-five road deaths between the 25th of December and the 1st of January. That's the second lowest road toll the nation's recorded since 1989.

However the dent that's been made in the number of fatalities has been more dramatic, according to the latest figures released by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau. Its report shows that the nation's overall rate has been slashed in the last 30 years from eight deaths per 10,000 registered vehicles to 1.4.

But that's still too high for Federal Transport Minister, John Anderson, who's ordered a review of the latest holiday road toll, concerned there may be too much emphasis on anti-speeding campaigns rather than those dealing with fatigue, road conditions and driver training.

But chairman of the Pedestrian Council of Australia, Harold Scruby, says if Australia is to achieve the targets being met by other European countries, it must focus less on public awareness and get tougher on motorists.

HAROLD SCRUBY: Well, the Swedish parliament has voted for a program called "Vision Zero" which hopefully will see no deaths on the roads in Sweden.

TANYA NOLAN: Is it a realistic program to your mind?

HAROLD SCRUBY: Well, their program suggests that safety must precede commerce. And I think we've got to start looking at saving lives that way. If we killed, we kill about 2,000 a people a year on our roads. If we were bringing that many people back in body bags from Afghanistan or Timor, governments would just fall over.

TANYA NOLAN: Do you believe it's a realistic approach, though, for the Australian government to adopt a similar program of zero deaths on the roads?

HAROLD SCRUBY: Yes, it has been proposed and I think the Victorian government was very close to adopting it. I think once one government does that, we will embrace it.

TANYA NOLAN: So you're advocating more draconian penalties?

HAROLD SCRUBY: Well, I think governments find it very easy to embrace the education idea. And that's very good, but it starts to wear thin. I mean, we've got to recognise that there are about 5 per cent of the people on our roads who, who are causing all the damage. That's 5 per cent of, a recidivist dangerous driver off our roads through insurance and through legislation, and making it safe for the other 95 per cent.

TANYA NOLAN: The Australian Transport Safety Bureau says more than 166,000 people have been killed on Australian roads since it began keeping records in 1925. And while the human toll is immeasurable, the bureau calculates the monetary cost equals around $15 billion every year.

The Northern Territory may have the highest fatality rate per number of vehicles according to the bureau's report, but NSW has the most road deaths. Having worked as a roads and traffic surveyor in the state for almost 20 years, NRMA director, Richard Talbot, says changing driver attitudes is the only way to affect the road toll.

RICHARD TALBOT: I think we have been getting tougher. I wouldn't like to see the proliferation of speed cameras though, where people could start to get a little bit concerned about whether the real motive is, say, revenue raising. So I think, you know, it's got to be a two-way street. If we're getting tougher, we must also reward and recognise good driving.

LINDA MOTTRAM: Director of the NRMA, Richard Talbot, speaking to our reporter, Tanya Nolan.