Road safety: What and how we drive

recalls road safety has just read a huge report from the national Joint Select Committee on Road Safety. It contains hundreds of ideas about road safety in Australia and how to improve it. Last week, looked at roads themselves. This week, we look at more personal aspects of road safety, such as what and how we drive.

Safe Vehicles

Safe Vehicles are one of four planks to the Safe System approach to road safety.

Did you know business and government buy over half of new vehicles?
This means they can influence what kinds of vehicles individuals will drive. The safer their fleets, the safer the vehicles that come on to the used market later.

ANCAP, the vehicle safety body, says governments, and businesses should develop policies to only use vehicles carrying a 5-star rating.

Meanwhile, the College of Surgeons, with a strong interest in reducing road trauma, suggests governments could:

  • Remove tariffs on importing vehicles with proven safety features
  • Lower registration costs for vehicles with proven safety features
  • Offer tax incentives to buy safer vehicles
  • Subsidise the price of vehicles with recent 5-star ratings.

ANCAP currently doesn’t assess design or safety of interfaces between driver and vehicle for its safety ratings. According to HFESA, which focuses on ergonomics and technology, ANCAP needs to assess:

Finally, the Committee supported putting event data recorders (EDRs) in all vehicles. EDRs are also known as dashcams or black boxes. They log vehicle data seconds before and after a possible accident or hazard, usually detected by harsh braking.

These kinds of data would provide valuable information for police and insurers after an accident and also understand near-misses. Ultimately, EDR data could be used to suggest new interventions for improving road safety.

Safe Drivers

It may be surprising to learn there is no national approach to licensing and road safety education. This is in spite of the fact every driver, no matter where licensed, can drive all over Australia. They are also expected to know the different road rules in every state and territory. This lack of inconsistency is not good for road safety.

Less surprising is the fact learner driver training does not match global best practice. Many experts have claimed poor driver education is more responsible for road trauma than, say, speeding.

For example, a learner can complete practice hours with a licensed driver who has no particular qualifications to teach driving. Some young people learn to drive in big SUVs, which may not be the safest choice for novices.

It is worth introducing or improving driver training in these areas:

  • Sharing the road with heavy vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists
  • Driving on rural and remote roads
  • Responding to risks and understanding their own risk-taking
  • Noticing and responding to hazards.

The Joint Committee was in favour of harmonising driver education across all states and territories. It also wanted to identify which elements would have the most impact on road safety.

Knowing where and how to improve road safety in Australia also depends on having good data.

Road safety data

Collecting good data for road safety is not as easy as it sounds. For example, we find it easier to measure things that can be measured (blood alcohol reading) rather than things that are important to measure (distraction).

The report calls for a broader range of data. This way we can understand the whole road safety environment, not just what happened when somebody was injured or died. For example:

  • Location of crashes and the socio-demographic and health characteristics of crash victims
  • Crashes involving cyclists
  • Number and characteristics of recreational vehicle users
  • Crashes which involve financial damage but not death or serious injury
  • Near-misses.

Meanwhile, definitions are not always consistent across states and territories so it is difficult to set national targets. For example, the definition of “serious injury” is inconsistent and distorts statistics across Australia.

Finally, it appears states and territories are not always willing to share their data. So while road safety is a national concern, it is more difficult to address it on a national level.

Can insurers influence road safety?

Here’s an interesting idea: insurers could have more influence on road safety. This is the view of Dr Richard Tooth, an academic at UNSW. He says there’s no financial incentive for insurers to encourage safe road use.

He says it costs an insurer between $200,000 and $500,000 for a fatal injury claim, while the benefit to society of preventing a death is $8 million. Meanwhile, premiums for comprehensive or third property damage are related to risk, but CTP insurance premiums are not. They are highly regulated and, because of the risk equalisation scheme in NSW, individual premiums are not related to risk.

This means safer road users subsidise unsafe road users.

However, NSW is the only state or territory where greenslip premiums in NSW are based on vehicle owner, type of vehicle, driving history and insurance held. Cheaper greenslips offer an incentive to drive a safer vehicle, avoid traffic fines and hold property insurance. Even so, Tooth argues that insurers, not just drivers, need societally optimal incentives for promoting road safety. This is a topic for another blog.

Good road safety means cheaper greenslips

Considering the popularity of vehicle ownership since the 1920s, and the prominence of driving in Australian life, our road safety record is pretty good. Comparing road deaths with the number of registered vehicles shows “an almost unbroken record of improvement”.

We can put road deaths and injuries in a wider context – some 15 million people got in their cars to drive somewhere today and nearly every one got home safely.

Currently no system of road safety has achieved zero deaths or injuries. But we should recognise what works and what doesn’t. We could encourage everyone, including insurers, to play their part in road safety.

Good road safety means cheaper greenslips.

See Part 1 of this series, Road Safety: More than just safe roads.

Corrina Baird

Writer and expert

Corrina used to lend her car to her kids and discovered first hand what Ls, Ps and demerits mean for greenslips. After 20 years of writing and research in financial services, she’s an expert in the NSW CTP scheme. Read more about Corrina

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