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Governing the road safety governors – Australian reform underway

A high-level review of road safety governance has begun in Australia. Michael McCormack, who holds the posts of Deputy Prime Minister and Federal Minister for Transport, has announced the Terms of Reference.

“When it comes to keeping our roads safe we all share responsibility which is why the Australian Government is driving ahead with important policy reforms and changes. As the Federal Minister with responsibility for road safety, this is a constant priority. Since record keeping commenced in 1925, there have been more than 190,000 deaths on Australia’s roads… The Australian Government is working with State and Territory governments towards the “Vision Zero” goal to have no fatalities on our roads. One road death or road accident is one too many and we need to make sure every dollar spent on road safety works to achieve maximum return,” the Deputy Prime Minister said today (Tuesday, January 29, 2019).

Carrying out a road safety review is one of 12 recommendations of an inquiry into Australia’s Road Safety Strategy which was completed last year.

Terms of Reference for the national road safety governance review have now been released to the public.

A problem identified in the terms of reference is that there is a lack of focus on harm elimination. Responsibility for harm reduction is spread across multiple agencies and tiers of government. Governments with a say in Australian road safety include the Federal Government, eight States and Territories and over 500 local governments. Then there are the agencies that have safety responsibilities, including AustRoads, the National Transport Commission and the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator and then eight workplace safety regulators, one in each of the States and Territories.

The review will also look at whether Australia has the right governance arrangements to deliver road safety in line with the National Safe System approach. The Safe System approach takes a holistic view to road safety and is governed by the principles: “people make mistakes”; “human physical frailty”; “a forgiving road transport system”; and “shared and corporate responsibility.”

The terms of reference state that the review will only consider the effectiveness of institutional management; it will not look into program implementation, delivery of interventions or results.

The review will be carried out by the Federal Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities. It starts work immediately and a draft report is due in March. A final report will be sent to the Transport Infrastructure Council, Australia’s highest policy deliberating body other than the Australian Parliament.

A terrible toll…

A lack of road safety carries a horrific toll for Australia. According to the University of Adelaide’s Centre for Automotive Safety Research, which carried out the research, road safety in Australia has “stalled” and the country needs a “dramatic change in road safety management.”

The Centre’s research stated that over 1,200 people die on Australia’s roads every year, which “reverses” the safety gains made in earlier years. In addition, the report stated that every year 36,000 people are admitted to hospital, many with life-changing injuries such as paralysis, brain injuries and amputations.

Each year road crashes cost more than A$30billion (U.S. $30 billion).

If nothing changes, the Centre’s report stated that over the next 10 years, road safety accidents will cause 360,000 people to be sent to hospital and 12,000 people to die.

“The scale of the personal and financial cost of road trauma is unacceptable, and current actions and investments are not achieving the desired results. Australia needs a dramatic change in road safety management, given the national road injury epidemic and the enormous economic cost from road crashes. This demands large-scale action, with a disaster response,” according to the report.

Freight transport continues to claim the lives of Australian drivers. As reported earlier on FreightWaves, Australia’s transport sector has a worker fatality rate of 8.6 deaths per 100,000 workers. That’s 5.7 times greater than the Australian national average.

The sector is officially recognised as being high-risk.

Safe Work Australia figures show that there were 119 commercial vehicle-related worker deaths in 2017 and that 41 bystanders died after being hit by working vehicles. Cross-referencing the Safe Work Australia figures with the Centre’s figures leads to the conclusion that just under 10 percent of the annual road death toll and 3.4 percent of the bystander death toll is related to commercial vehicles.