Australia’s governments are failing miserably in their efforts to reduce road-traffic trauma and are unable or unwilling to tackle the problem, says the umbrella organization of Australia’s state automobile clubs.
The Australian Automobile Association (AAA) this week issued a scathing assessment of governments’ road safety policies, going so far as to question their commitment to reducing road accidents in the first place.
AAA membership includes the NRMA, RACV, and RACQ, as well as other state automobile associations.
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The federal government’s current National Road Safety Strategy 2021-2030 (NRSS), signed by the state and territory secretaries of transportation and the federal government, aims to halve the number of road fatalities and halve the number of serious injuries by 30 percent by the end of this decade to lower .
The NRSS also aimed to achieve zero deaths in children under the age of 7, zero deaths in urban CBD areas and zero deaths on all national roads by the same 2030 deadline.
The decades-old strategy got off to a bad start. The road toll in 2022 was higher than in 2021, and the road toll in 2023 is higher again year-to-date. In the 12 months ended 31 March 2023 there were 1,204 deaths on Australian roads – a 5.9 per cent increase.
This is not due to population growth either, as the annual death rate per 100,000 inhabitants rose by 4.2 percent.
All states and territories — with the exception of New South Wales — fell short of agreed road safety targets.
Worse, AAA models show that the national toll is actually 19 percent higher than it would need to be if the strategy were on track to achieve the targeted prorated reduction – a figure equivalent to 193 additional deaths.
Central to the AAA is the assertion that governments have not yet developed a national data system capable of quantifying national serious injuries, although this has long been a priority issue for highway authorities.
The full dataset is instead managed by state governments and not harmonized into national figures – unlike the top-level road toll figures that are about to see the light of day.
“There is still no national data on the causes of accidents, serious injuries, road quality or details of the people and vehicles involved,” claims AAA executive director Michael Bradley.
“That means we still can’t measure serious injuries nationwide. We also don’t know how many deaths occur in urban CBD areas or on national highways and high-speed highways, which cover 80 percent of traffic.
“These are both NRSS targets. Only two of the strategy’s five key performance indicators — total national deaths and deaths in young children — can be measured accurately.”
The Federal Ministry of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts (a department) publishes monthly bulletins detailing road deaths by jurisdiction, road user, age group, gender, type of accident, posted speed limit and time of day.
You can read a sample report from March 2023 here Here.
Mr Bradley is calling for reform where the federal government would require states to provide relevant data for these targets as a condition of receiving Commonwealth funds for roads.
“The AAA strongly endorses these trauma reduction goals, but governments must report the data needed to measure progress and prevent future trauma,” he said.
“The number of road deaths has increased over the past five years and the lack of data on road accidents makes it difficult to understand the reasons for this trend and identify the actions needed to prevent it.
“Governments’ unwillingness to collect or report the data needed to measure targets undermines the credibility of the strategy and prevents an evidence-based response to Australia’s deteriorating road safety performance.”
In a separate email, Mr Bradley made some even more explicit quotes:
“This report raises serious questions about the government’s commitment to reducing road accidents,” he said.
“You can’t improve what you can’t measure and when it comes to Australian road accidents the Commonwealth Government measures very little.
“The victims’ families deserve to know that governments learn from every accident and take action to prevent others from suffering the same fate.
“Until governments report on the targets they have set, Australian street spending will continue to be political football.
“Motorists deserve data-driven financing decisions because saving a life is more important than saving a tight seat.”
Road fatalities in Australia
- 2018: 1135
- 2019: 1186
- 2020: 1097 (fatality rate fell less than average mileage during COVID lockdowns)
- 2021: 1129
- 2022: 1192
- 2023: YTD: 312 (up 4 percent year-on-year)
- Target for 2030 according to NRSS: 571