Crash! But more live
The toll comes down as technology advances, writes Neil Dowling
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.