For whom the toll tells

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Car News - PAUL GOVER CHIEF RE­PORTER paul.gover@cars­ Twit­ter @paulwardgover

THE road toll is fall­ing fast.

In Vic­to­ria, it could dip be­low 100 deaths a year by the end of this decade, down from just on 250 this year.

Other states re­port sim­i­lar im­prove­ments.

The best news is the re­duc­tion in deaths among the teenagers and 20-some­things who have tra­di­tion­ally been most at risk on the roads, but who are now — fi­nally — get­ting bet­ter train­ing and more ex­pe­ri­ence be­fore they go solo.

But — and it’s a very big but — there are far too many peo­ple who leave cars out of the road safety story. Po­lice and govern­ment au­thor­i­ties still want us to be­lieve that all the good news is down to speed cam­eras and po­lice en­force­ment.

Rub­bish. Cars have never been safer not just in an im­pact but in help­ing us to avoid dan­ger. Did you no­tice that I didn’t say “ac­ci­dent”?

Airbags mean more peo­ple sur­vive col­li­sions, but it’s things like anti-skid brakes (you don’t pump the pedal any­more, OK?) and elec­tric sta­bil­ity con­trol that make the dif­fer­ence to the toll. Ever more af­ford­able cars are avail­able with ac­tive safety mea­sures such as radar cruise con­trol, au­to­matic brak­ing, blind-spot mon­i­tor­ing and lane-keep­ing as­sis­tance.

“Safer ve­hi­cles are mak­ing a huge dif­fer­ence and are likely to make a big­ger dif­fer­ence in the next five years than they have in the past five,” the head of the Aus­tralasian New-Car As­sess­ment Pro­gram, Lach­lan McIn­tosh, says. “It was, what, 2008 when we first had a five- star Ford Fal­con? To­day it’s 80 per cent of new cars that have five-star safety.”

Un­like the po­lice, who hap­pily sen­sa­tion­alise an atyp­i­cal event such as an id­iot do­ing 200km/h, or lazy news­desks that trot out the “hor­ror toll” line dur­ing hol­i­days, McIn­tosh has statis­tics.

“On elec­tronic sta­bil­ity con­trol, in­surance com­pany data in Aus­tralia shows a 25 per cent drop in crashes. And SUVs aren’t hav­ing those rollover crashes,” he says. “In the USA, Mercedes-Benz says its sales of col­li­sion parts are down by 22 per cent since 2008. That’s a dif­fer­ent way of mea­sur­ing things.”

McIn­tosh has a big-pic­ture view of road safety be­cause — like the Cars­guide crew — he looks at all the com­po­nents, from airbags down to road de­sign and main­te­nance.

“Yes­ter­day, I was driv­ing along and there were bits of tyre along the road. Who’s go­ing to clean it up? What if some­one swerves to avoid it?” he says.

“In the work­place, you’d be shot for that. Di­rec­tors would be held to task for hav­ing an un­safe work­place.”

The bot­tom line for him is about cars and roads, not driv­ers.

“There are still some peo­ple who don’t get it,” he says.

“Blam­ing the whole thing on the re­cal­ci­trant driver just fright­ens the or­di­nary driver.”

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