A safety expert brings us up to speed, writes Paul Gover
AUSTRALIANS need to go faster — and slower — to improve the safety situation on the country’s roads.
Freeway limits should be boosted as high as 140km/ h but many country and suburban roads need to take a cut, Mercedes-Benz safety guru Ulrich Mellinghoff says.
He is also calling for more driver training and a better attitude to driving after his first experience on Australian roads.
‘‘The government should think about a bigger differential in the speed limit,’’ says Mellinghoff, who heads all safety work at MercedesBenz in Germany. ‘‘ On the highway it is too low. In many situations it is too high. I think they must find a compromise.’’
He says he was shocked during a long-distance drive from Melbourne to Sydney during his first visit to Australia for a series of road-safety workshops.
‘‘ A lot of people drive very smoothly on country roads, but on the highway they are much more aggressive. They were all driving in the trunk of my car. Very close to me. I was very surprised,’’ he says.
‘‘People are very often distracted when they drive. Very often they didn’t realise you would pass them.
‘‘There is also extra risk because people pass others on both sides.’’
Mellinghoff believes the best of Australia’s roads can easily take a 130-140km/h speed limit, provided there is better education.
‘‘I’m convinced 130, for example, is no problem. So I think it is maybe safer than today, even if you drive a little bit faster,’’ he says.
‘‘But on the other hand I think if you raise the speed limit you need better education of young drivers.’’
He is worried most about poor lane discipline and the potential for trucks to cause problems.
‘‘If you allow higher speed it must be combined with a higher commitment to only passing on the right side,’’ Mellinghoff says.
‘‘It’s not ideal that trucks can travel at the same speed. In an emergency, a truck takes the same distance to break from 80km/h to zero as a car from 120km/h to zero.’’
He says European research and experience shows freeways are the safest roads, with a much lower fatality rate than suburban streets.
‘‘In Germany, the safest way to drive is on the highway,’’ he says.
‘‘In Germany we were having 22,000 fatalities in 1972 and now it is below 4000.
‘‘Only 2000 of them were passengers in a car, and less than 200 are on hghways. The highway is not the biggest problem we have.’’