Figures from the Bureau of Transport, Infrastructure and Regional Economics show that fatalities on Australian roads last year were 8 per cent higher than in 2015. Fatalities in December of last year were up 23 per cent on December 2015.
These disturbing facts require a serious policy response.
A serious policy response should include funding for programs like keys2drive. This innovative initiative was one that was established during the term of the former Federal Labor Government.
Indeed, an analysis recently conducted by the University of NSW found that keys2drive participants are 28 per cent less likely than the general population to have a crash and 40 per cent less likely to be involved in a crash that causes moderate to serious injury within their first 6 months as a provisional license holder.
Accordingly, Labor has called on the Turnbull Government to use their upcoming Budget to provide the funds that will enable keys2drive to continue. The fact is in the absence of such a commitment this successful program will cease in July and around 40,000 learner drivers each year will no longer be able to access the expertise of accredited driving instructors.
A serious policy response would also involve a greater investment in the nation’s roads to ensure they’re in good condition. However unfortunately in recent years we’ve seen a slow-down in long overdue safety upgrades to important roads including the Bruce and Pacific highways.
A serious policy response would also involve addressing the structural issues within the trucking industry that force too many drivers to accept unrealistic delivery deadlines, cut corners on maintenance, overload their vehicles or take illicit drugs to stay awake longer simply to make a decent living for their families.
Indeed, a 2000 parliamentary committee produced a unanimous report highlighting the problem: “Risks are compounded by the commercial imperative on transport operators to maximise the return on their investment, the demands of customers and by the pressure this places on transport workers to undertake longer hours with fewer rest breaks.”
The fact is trucks account for only 2 per cent of registered vehicles. Yet they are involved in 16 per cent of all traffic accidents.
That’s why it was irresponsible of the Turnbull Government to abolish the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal last year without outlining an alternative approach. Established by the former Federal Labor Government, this body was tasked with setting minimum pay rates that would allow truck drivers to make a fair living while removing incentives for them to adopt unsafe practices.
And a serious policy would continue to invest in public education campaigns that make it clear that all drivers need to take responsibility for their own conduct when behind the wheel and avoid risky behaviour such as speeding, driving under the influence, driving distracted and driving tired. Ultimately governments can only do so much.
Lastly, road safety should be above politics and Labor is prepared to work with the Government and organisations such as the Australian Automobile Association (AAA) to develop and implement policies that will help save lives.