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