While the world is in the grips of coronavirus, another epidemic continues to kill people across nations.
According to the World Health Organisation, each year, 1.35 million people die as a result of road accidents.
"We've had more deaths on our roads in the time that we've been managing the deaths with COVID-19," said Dr John Crozier, chair of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons' Trauma Committee.
"Tragic as those deaths are, and rightly with a national and international focus on managing that epidemic, the silent epidemic of death and serious injury on roads, both in the developed and in the developing world, largely goes unabated.
"But there are ways of managing it that we can implement."
Victoria's road safety partners - the Transport Accident Commission, Victoria Police, VicRoads and the Department of Justice - follow a Safe System philosophy to road safety, as they work towards achieving zero deaths and serious injuries on Victorian roads.
The Safe System approach aims to minimise risks and is focused on the four pillars of road safety: building safer roads and roadsides, introducing safer speeds, encouraging safer vehicles and safer road use by all users.
Having more safer vehicles on the roads is a key component to minimising the amount of road trauma, as statistics reveal around 60 per cent of fatality crashes in Victoria involve drivers and passengers travelling in vehicles that are more than ten years old.
According to statistics from the Transport Accident Commission, between 2011 and 2020, drivers and passengers travelling in vehicles older than 10 years represent 61 per cent of lives lost statewide. During this period, 928 drivers and passengers in older vehicles were killed, compared to 590 travelling in vehicles less than 10 years old.
The statistics are similar in regional Victoria. In the same period, 63 per cent of people killed on regional roads were travelling in older vehicles at the time of the collision. That is 620 drivers and passengers killed while travelling in a vehicle more than 10 years old, compared to 351 killed while travelling in a vehicle less than 10 years old.
While it is not to say that older vehicles are the cause of fatal accidents, it has been proven people are much safer in modern cars fitted with lifesaving safety features and technology.
Dr Crozier, who co-chaired the inquiry into the national road safety strategy 2011-20, believes there are many opportunities regarding safer vehicles which could be grasped.
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Each year across Australia, more than 1200 people are killed and 44,000 hospitalised as a result of road accidents. In Victoria, 84 people have died in the year to date.
As a surgeon he, along with thousands of other medical professionals around the country, see the scope of injuries as a result of road trauma, with about 100 patients being transported to hospitals around the nation each day.
These range from skull and facial fractures, shattered arms and legs and multiple fractured ribs. Sometimes the limb must be amputated. Road trauma can also result in lifelong injuries such as brain injuries or spinal cord injuries causing paralysis.
It can also cause psychological injury, meaning people are unable to continue with studies or with their employment.
According to the TAC, newer vehicles are more likely to have technologies installed which either protect the driver in the event of a crash or prevent the incident from happening at all.
Improving the safety of Victoria's fleet is one of the most powerful tools to help reduce deaths and serious injuries on our roadsTAC's Lead Director Road Safety Samantha Cockfield
"Improving the safety of Victoria's fleet is one of the most powerful tools to help reduce deaths and serious injuries on our roads," the TAC's Lead Director Road Safety, Samantha Cockfield said.
Aside from curtain airbags, other beneficial and widely available technologies include Auto Emergency Braking (AEB), which can reduce rear-end crashes by 38 per cent.
Dr Crozier believes autonomous emergency braking technology should be added to the Australian Design Rules with immediate effect.
"It's a stroke of a pen that would see the arrival of all new vehicles into the country mandatorily fitted with autonomous emergency braking," he said.
This was how Australia legislated the mandatory fitment of seat belts in the early 1970s, when the state recorded its highest number of road fatalities - 1061 - in one year. The number of deaths dropped significantly the following year.
Currently, most of the vehicles that come off production lines in Asia and Western Europe are fitted with the technology, as are trucks manufactured in Europe.
"The impact of autonomous emergency braking across a whole fleet is that you reduce the rear end crash rate by about a third," Dr Crozier said.
"Even if a vehicle is not completely halted by the automated emergency braking, it significantly reduces the impact of the crash speed, and with that there's a tremendous drop in fatality and serious injury rates."
Electronic stability control is another beneficial feature for trucks that is not mandated by the design rules, and as a consequence, means there are preventable crashes, according to Dr Crozier.
Meanwhile, according to the TAC, advisory speed alert technology, which alerts the driver when they exceed the speed limit, can reduce the time spent speeding by up to 40 per cent.
Other beneficial technology is seat belt warning technology - that annoying beep you hear when you start driving without buckling up - which by increasing the wearing of seat belts, could reduce death and serious injury by up to 50 per cent.
Lane departure warnings and lane keep assist can also reduce the incidence of vehicles leaving the roadway or drifting into oncoming traffic.
A high pedestrian rating in a vehicle, such as with pedestrian auto emergency braking installed, also decreases the risk of pedestrians being seriously hurt.
While police duties involve the enforcement of road rules in an effort to drive down road trauma, the force ensures its own are driving the safest vehicles as they undertake their duties.
All Victoria Police vehicles must meet the mandatory government safety ratings (a 5 Star ANCAP rating).
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Before they hit the road, all vehicles to be used by Victoria Police undergo a range of performance assessments. These include braking and handling tests, to ensure they meet the appropriate vehicle safety classification for the operational tasks they are performing.
Police vehicles are leased for three years, or a period between 60,000km and 90,000km, depending on their use.
At the conclusion of the lease, the vehicles are decommissioned and are released for sale to the public through government vehicle auctions.
Western Region Road Policing Inspector Michael Phyland said regularly upgrading the police fleet meant police drive newer-model vehicles with the most up-to-date technology.
"This is important as it puts our officers in the safest vehicles possible when performing operational duties," he said.
"Releasing vehicles for sale at the end of their lease provides the community with an option to purchase safer cars second-hand, often at a price they can afford."
While police are constantly reminding the community of their responsibilities when it comes to road safety, they understand that sometimes mistakes can happen.
Inspector Phyland said safer vehicles, along with driver behaviour, had a significant role to play in reducing road trauma.
Releasing vehicles for sale at the end of their lease provides the community with an option to purchase safer cars second-hand, often at a price they can affordInspector Michael Phyland
"If we could upgrade every vehicle to the safest in its class, we know death and serious injuries on our roads could be significantly reduced," he said.
"Safer vehicles mean safer roads and, ultimately, safer people.
"We know not everyone can afford top-of-the-line vehicles, but we ask that people consider purchasing the safest car they can afford."
Community members are encouraged to log on to the How Safe is Your Car website to check the safety features of any potential purchases when buying vehicles.
For more information, visit www.howsafeisyourcar.com.au
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