A road toll of about 80 is, of course, un­ac­cept­able but it would be a stag­ger­ing im­prove­ment - Rex Jory

The Advertiser - - OPINION -

HERE’S a pre­dic­tion which is cer­tain to pro­voke the cranky gods of fate. South Aus­tralia is qui­etly mov­ing to­wards its low­est an­nual death toll from road ac­ci­dents in liv­ing mem­ory.

So far this year there have only been 50 road fa­tal­i­ties. I use the word “only” ad­vis­edly. One death is one too many.

But this com­pares with 54 deaths at the same pe­riod in 2016 when there was a record low of 86 road deaths for the full year.

Last year at the same time there had been 67 deaths and the an­nual toll was 100 deaths.

So we are cur­rently four ahead of 2016 and 17 bet­ter than last year.

If the trend con­tin­ues, there could be fewer than 80 road deaths this year.

Again, I use the word “few” ad­vis­edly.

Fig­ures are, of course, frag­ile and de­cep­tive.

One bad week, in­deed one bad ac­ci­dent, can tilt the bal­ance.

But let’s, for a mo­ment, dare to dream.

A road toll of about 80 is, of course, un­ac­cept­able but it would be a stag­ger­ing im­prove­ment on what has been a shame­ful record of waste and de­spair.

For ex­am­ple, in 1950, the first year of Fed­eral Of­fice of Road Safety statis­tics, 170 peo­ple died on SA roads and by 1958 the fig­ure reached 200 for the first time.

In 1974, 382 peo­ple were killed in road crashes in SA.

The fol­low­ing year 339 peo­ple died, in 1976 it was 307 and 1977 306. In 1979 309 peo­ple died on the roads, the last time the fig­ure topped 300.

In 1970 – the black­est year on the na­tional roads – 3798 peo­ple died in road ac­ci­dents across Aus­tralia.

To put those fig­ures in con­text, the pop­u­la­tion of Wal­la­roo is 3481.

A bus car­ries about 50 peo­ple, so 382 deaths is roughly the equiv­a­lent of the num­ber of pas­sen­gers in eight buses.

Re­mem­ber, in the 1970s there were far fewer cars on the road.

The com­pul­sory use of seat beats, drink driv­ing laws, im­proved roads, bet­ter speed de­tect­ing tech­nol­ogy and im­proved com­mu­nity aware­ness have been the main fac­tors in driv­ing down the death toll.

To­day 382 road deaths in a year would be to­tally un­ac­cept­able.

Hope­fully, in a decade, 100 deaths a year will be viewed as of­fen­sive and will not be tol­er­ated.

With 97 days still to go, this year’s po­ten­tial record could quickly be shat­tered.

So far there has been an av­er­age of one death ev­ery 5.4 days. In 1974 the ra­tio was one death ev­ery 1.04 days.

If the cur­rent trend con­tin­ues there could be as few (and again the word “few” is used ad­vis­edly) as 20 more deaths this year, bring­ing the to­tal to 70.

But dur­ing the lead-up to Christ­mas the road toll tends to spike.

Even then we can hope the num­ber stays be­low the 2016 record of 86 deaths.

This would be a re­mark­able achieve­ment con­sid­er­ing the fig­ure stood at 382 deaths 35 years ago and 147 only 21 years ago.

But let’s not for­get th­ese are not merely statis­tics.

They rep­re­sent acute per­sonal tragedy.

Each death touches dozens of peo­ple.

Each death car­ries a huge fi­nan­cial bur­den.

The Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment es­ti­mates road crashes cost Aus­tralia $27 bil­lion a year. Apart from the 100 deaths on SA roads last year, 622 peo­ple were se­ri­ously in­jured.

Some will be per­ma­nently dis­abled and never work again.

The bur­den on the hos­pi­tal and med­i­cal sys­tem is enor­mous.

Of the 100 peo­ple who died in SA road smashes last year nearly half were not wear­ing seats belts. At least a dozen had an il­le­gal blood al­co­hol level.

Of the 50 road deaths so far this year, only 13 (there’s that word again) have been in greater Ade­laide and 37 on ru­ral roads.

Th­ese raw statis­tics sug­gest at least some of the deaths were pre­ventable if driv­ers took greater care and obeyed sim­ple safety pro­to­cols.

In the end, our law mak­ers and po­lice can only do so much. The road toll is an in­di­vid­ual re­spon­si­bil­ity we all share.

ROAD TOLL: We must con­tinue to work hard to pre­vent ac­ci­dents on our roads.

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