Don’t wait for deaths to happen: calls for road safety funding overhaul

The Morrison Government should stop waiting until deaths occur on certain roads before funding safety improvements and instead overhaul programs that fail to pay enough attention to preventing crashes, a high-powered parliamentary committee says.

Nov 04, 2020, updated Nov 04, 2020

The joint committee on road safety has urged a new approach to road funding, saying governments should use better technology to assess how dangerous a road is rather than wait for a fatal crash to happen.

The committee has also urged that more work be done on establishing a star rating system for roads, but stopped short of joining calls by road safety lobbyists for funding to be withheld from states that do not publish safety star ratings for road infrastructure.

State government road and transport authorities have been hotly anticipating the committee’s report, tabled in federal parliament following a lengthy inquiry into the state of Australia’s road safety.

The committee said that while there had been a steady decline in road deaths, from 30.4 per 100,000 people in 1970 to just 4.7 deaths per 100,000 in 2019, this decline had stagnated in recent years.

“It was suggested by some submitters that there appears to be a level of tolerance in Australia regarding the number of deaths that occur on our roads,” the report said.

It also highlighted how regional Australia suffered more road deaths than metropolitan areas, stating that “evidence presented to the inquiry overwhelmingly indicated that people driving on regional and remote roads continue to be disproportionately impacted by road trauma”.

In Queensland, 59 per cent of road deaths from 2014 to 2018 occurred on rural roads, with data available indicating that in 2019 this figure rose to over 60 per cent

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The committee recommended the Government “review its Black Spot Program funding conditions and site eligibility, with a view to making it more effective in proactively detecting and treating deficiencies in road infrastructure”.

The Black Spot program bases its funding on past deaths and serious injuries in road crashes, a formula that many road safety groups and motorist organisations say makes it too reactive rather than proactive in improving road safety.

Since 2013-14, the Black Spot Program has spent more than $660 million for more than 2371 road safety projects around Australia.

Federal government agencies have insisted that such programs has reduced crashes involving deaths or serious injury by 30 percent.

The government National Road Safety Strategy has adopted a long-term goal of “zero deaths” on roads and promote a “road safety culture across Australian society”.

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