‘Don’t take fatal risks’

Drivers must take responsibility for their actions on the road if Victoria is to have any success in driving down the road toll, experts say.

HORRIFIC YEAR: The road toll is surging and authorities are warning drivers to be aware of all conditions. Picture: Kate Healy

HORRIFIC YEAR: The road toll is surging and authorities are warning drivers to be aware of all conditions. Picture: Kate Healy

On the back of the worst year for road trauma in recent years the Transport Accident Centre is urging drivers to Rethink Speed, but a road safety expert says now is the time for drivers to think about all aspects of driving.

“People get used to doing things that are quite dangerous that they think they don’t have a consequence,” Monash University Accident Research Centre Associate Professor Stuart Newstead said. “They don’t realise the significant risk in doing things day to day, if something does go wrong there are serious consequences.” 

Ballarat Highway Patrol Senior Sergeant Cleary is on the front line dealing with unprecedented trauma in the region – the immediate region’s road toll is close to 20. The highest in years. 

“Road conditions that are unexpected can occur at any time, which is why the driver must remain vigilant at all times,” Senior Sergeant Cleary said. Complacency is a major issue, Professor Newstead said. Most drivers just assume they will arrive at their destination safely. They are wrong to think this, he said. 

“One of the problems we have is most people presume they are not going to crash, most people think they are better drivers than they are. They need to be conscious at any time and anywhere.” 

Cars have improved greatly, as has road infrastructure - but speed remains one of the greatest killers. Motorists and passengers in a modern car have a 75 per cent greater survival rate than a person who has the same crash in a 40 year old car, Professor Newstead said. 

“But you can have the best vehicle in the world and the safest infrastructure in the world and if you hit something at a certain speed it can still lead to a fatality,” Professor Newstead said.

“Particularly, we see on country roads people drive at the speed limit quite often in conditions when they don't have line of sight to avoid things in time … putting people at great risk.”

Senior Sergeant Cleary said police continued to see the impact of inattention – whether it be to road conditions like black ice, or because they were distracted by technology. 

“Inattention or distraction for only a split second can lead to a horrendous situation and we are seeing that right here in our region,” Senior Sergeant Cleary said. 

Distraction is one of the modern killers and the road authorities are trying to communicate the fatal consequences of distractions to all motorists. 

“Our cars are fitted with modern technology, but some of that technology can distract us,” Professor Newstead said. 

Professor Newstead said drivers must understand the higher the speed, the greater their chance of dying. 

“There is an exponential rise particularly (for potential) for fatals,” Professor Newstead said. 

TAC’s Samantha Cockfield has called for urgent community discourse revolving around road safety.

“We want to really remind people that injuries are caused by speed. The speed we are travelling at at the time of the crash determines our injuries, and that speed is in the control of individual.”

So what can people do? If drivers come across an animal the instinct is to swerve. This can be a fatal mistake. It’s far safer to hit the animal than serve and roll the car, Professor Newstead said. If drivers think there is a possibility of black ice they should driver at a lower speed. If the phone rings, don’t look at it. 

“Driver’s must focus 100 per cent on the task at hand – driving,” Senior Sergeant Cleary said. 

“There's a responsibility across the whole community.  Yes, we need enforcement but drivers need to understand that when you’re driving you’re obligated to put your full attention in it or else, the consequences are terrible," Professor Newstead said.