Both our potential prime ministerial candidates, Scott Morrison and Anthony Albanese, have experienced recent road crashes. Neither of those crashes were "accidents" - they, like so many crashes, most likely could have been avoided.
So why do we just accept 1200 deaths and 40,000 serious injuries each year?
In March, just before the election was called, the joint select committee on road safety, co-chaired at its completion by Nationals MP Darren Chester and Labor MP Matt Thistlethwaite, made 61 recommendations to basically disrupt many of the current processes for managing road safety across the country.
The Prime Minister's national Transport and Infrastructure Council has also accepted a target in the National Road Safety Strategy 2021-30 to reduce the annual number of road fatalities by at least 50 per cent and serious injuries by at least 30 per cent by 2030 (#50by30).
Given national interest in similar targets for carbon emissions, where are the plans and resources from our future leaders to achieve this vital target?
The National Party has at least published Our Plan for Keeping Australians Safe on our Roads. It is a little hard to find, but does mention the aforementioned road safety strategy. But it fails to finalise a real action plan, even though we are already well into the decade. There is much trumpeting of large amounts of dollars for specific road infrastructure works promised by the Nationals, but there are no specific road-trauma-reduction targets, and no commitments to the select committee recommendations. The dollars announced for peripheral road safety programs look much like reannouncements of last year's budget.
On the other hand, a trawl through the ALP platform shows no mention of a road safety policy. While the late SA senator Alex Gallacher, as well as his colleague, sitting WA senator Glenn Sterle, were very committed over the years to reducing road trauma, maybe the party lost interest after a 2021 Senate inquiry into the road transport industry, championed by Sterle, was met with a muted response from the Morrison government (no support for four of the 10 recommendations, and only a "noted" response to the other six).
The Greens and independents are basically silent as well. Don't they care?
There are specific actions we can take now which will make a difference.
Every aircraft crash is investigated by the Australian Transport Bureau. In the United States, the National Transportation Safety Board has the capacity to investigate any transport safety issue across all states - and, for instance, has recently been investigating road crashes of so-called autonomous cars. Why would we not do that here?
Road safety research and management in Australia is in many cases world-leading but fragmented, and our best academics and managers working in the space spend a large part of their time writing submissions for limited funds - despite road crashes costing the nation at least $30 billion every year. On the other hand, we'll spend an eye-watering $7 billion on defence research over the coming decade, going towards next-generation R&D, defence innovation and IT. The Nationals' "plan" is silent when it comes to committing any research dollars towards road safety innovation. Why isn't there a significant research and management commitment from all of the parties, to ensure we can achieve the #50by30 target?
Perhaps it is too easy for governments to keep blaming drivers and other road users, rather than taking responsibility for an out of date and in many cases seriously unsafe road system. We expect corporations to have innovative and safe workplaces, and to have zero-tolerance or stringent reduction targets for workplace incidents or harmful environmental outcomes.
Australia also drags its feet in introducing new safety technologies in cars and trucks, and in administrative processes compared to world-best practices. Our regulatory processes hinder and delay, as recognised by a raft of inquiries. No party appears prepared to disrupt these processes.
In regional and remote Australia, the risk of a serious road crash is around five times higher than in metropolitan areas. Why is this alarming trauma not a key platform for action?
Doing nothing will ensure nothing is achieved, and too many Australians - prime ministerial candidates included - will unfortunately continue to experience unnecessary road trauma.
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