Crash! But more live

The toll comes down as technology ad­vances, writes Neil Dowl­ing

Herald Sun - Motoring - - On Road -

CARS are faster and more pow­er­ful, the roads are con­gested and yet Aus­tralia’s road fa­tal­ity rate con­tin­ues to fall. Deaths per 100,000 reg­is­tered ve­hi­cles is at about 0.9 per cent, down from 1.2 per cent in 2003 and 8.0 per cent in 1970.

Last year there were 1509 road ve­hi­cle fa­tal­i­ties, down from 1633 in 2003 and 3798 in 1970.

The trend is re­peated in the US where road deaths have fallen to the same lev­els as the 1940s.

Safer cars, the in­tro­duc­tion of airbags and re­duced driv­ing times and dis­tances are re­spon­si­ble for the fall in deaths.

Data from the Aus­tralian Govern­ment’s Depart­ment of In­fra­struc­ture and Trans­port shows there are about 15.5 mil­lion ve­hi­cles now on Aus­tralian roads, of which 12.5 mil­lion are pas­sen­ger cars.

It says that the de­crease in fa­tal­i­ties in the past 40 years is at­trib­uted to: IM­PROVE­MENTS to roads, such as dual lane high­ways, ma­jor roads by­pass­ing towns and sub­urbs, shoul­der seal­ing, elim­i­nat­ing ‘‘ black spots’’, au­di­ble edge-lin­ing and re­moval of road­side haz­ards. CHANGES through Aus­tralian De­sign Rules, in­clud­ing child re­straint an­chor­ages and seats, head re­straints, airbags, and in­creased ve­hi­cle im­pact re­sis­tance and roll-over strength. LEG­IS­LA­TION re­quir­ing seat belts, and mo­tor­cy­cle and bi­cy­cle hel­mets. INI­TIA­TIVES against drink driv­ing, such as ran­dom breath-test­ing and pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion cam­paigns. EN­HANCED po­lice en­force­ment aided by im­proved technology such as red-light and speed cam­eras.

In the US, the road fa­tal­i­ties have plunged to 1940s lev­els as mo­torists are spend­ing less time be­hind the wheel and are driv­ing more airbage­quipped cars.

Deaths have been slashed by 22 per cent over the past five years, says a Uni­ver­sity of Michi­gan study.

The study says mo­torists are driv­ing slower and cov­er­ing shorter dis­tances to save money.

More cars have side and cur­tain airbags, in ad­di­tion to front airbags, which fur­ther re­duced the death rate.

‘‘A re­duc­tion of such mag­ni­tude over such a short time has not oc­curred since road safety statis­tics were first kept in 1913, ex­cept for the re­duc­tions dur­ing World War II,’’ says the uni­ver­sity’s Trans­porta­tion Re­search In­sti­tute pro­fes­sor Michael Si­vak.

He says that road deaths in the US de­clined from about 43,500 in 2005 to about 34,000 last year.

How­ever, while deaths have de­clined over­all, road fa­tal­i­ties caused by dis­tracted driv­ing have jumped by 42 per cent from 2005.

The uni­ver­sity says that dis­tracted driv­ing can in­volve sev­eral be­hav­iours, from talk­ing or tex­ting on mo­bile phones to con­vers­ing with pas­sen­gers or eat­ing while be­hind the wheel.

The study found that there was a fall in the num­ber of fa­tal­i­ties dur­ing the morn­ing and af­ter­noon peak hour. Re­searchers con­cluded this was con­sis­tent with re­duced com­muter traf­fic, be­cause so many peo­ple have lost their jobs.

Horror: fewer road deaths is the trend not only in Aus­tralia but in the US as well.

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