High­way, my­way

A safety ex­pert brings us up to speed, writes Paul Gover

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Onroad -

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.’’

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