For whom the toll tells
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.”