What can we do to improve road safety?

dying road safety

Who do you think is responsible for road safety? Is it car and truck drivers, schools, employers, road repairers, local councils or governments? The answer is all of the above. The new National Road Safety Strategy 2021-30 says it’s time to make road safety everyone’s responsibility.

Do we have a road safety problem?

Is road safety still a problem in Australia? Unfortunately, the National Road Safety Strategy 2011-2020 failed to meet its 10-year targets. People are still dying and being seriously injured on our roads:

  • 1,127 people died in the 12 months to March 2021
  • 1,361 suffered severe injuries in the 6 months to June 2020.

As well as these people, their families, friends and co-workers will be affected too.

The recently released draft National Road Safety Strategy 2021-30 takes a different approach from the previous one: the “social model approach”. It aims to use the power of people individually and in groups to influence each other.

Road safety is everyone’s responsibility

Following the social model, road safety becomes everyone’s responsibility. This includes individuals, communities, workplaces, transport industry, health and social services, law enforcement, education, planning and government.

The social model looks at five areas of potential influence:

  1. Public policy – Office of Road Safety, road agencies, road network managers, legislation, regulation, targeted funding, public transport
  2. Community – Community clubs (sporting, interest groups, car clubs), volunteer organisations, schools
  3. Organisations – Workplace policies in firms, agencies, multinationals
  4. Interpersonal – Influencing the relationships of individuals, organisations or sectors through leadership
  5.   Individuals – Responsibility for one’s own road safety, what works best given one’s background or culture.

Workplace policies are one important area because many people drive for work.

Road safety at work

Employers have a crucial role in influencing workers who are out on the road:

  • In NSW, almost 30% of workplace deaths are caused by a road crash at work
  • Around 25% of NSW road deaths are in crashes involving a car or light truck being used for work
  • Work-related motor accidents are most likely in the 45-54 year group.

Around 200,000 people work as truck drivers. This is dubbed “Australia’s deadliest job” because of sheer distances travelled and high rates of fatigue and loneliness. A lot more can be done to create a culture of road safety in this group – and other drivers they share the road with.

Another example is the safety of gig workers, such as food delivery riders. State Insurance Regulatory Authority (SIRA) is currently exploring personal injury insurance for these vulnerable workers. Many of them are not protected at all.

Workplace road safety is just one of nine priority areas for the National Strategy.

Priorities of National Strategy

Priority Reason
Infrastructure planning and investment Safe system for moving around and more liveable places
Regional roads Currently 55% of deaths
Remote areas 8 times more deaths than in major cities
Vehicle safety Most cars over 10 years old and lack safety
Heavy vehicle safety Australia’s deadliest job
Workplace road safety Includes gig workers, truck drivers
Indigenous Australians 3 times more likely to die on the road
Vulnerable road users More risk of death when traffic goes faster
Risky road use Speeding, alcohol and drugs, fatigue, distraction

What do people think about road safety?

Changing attitudes to road safety is not easy. People don’t always do what they say they would. They may justify, eg speeding, because they think the rules don’t apply to them.

The latest survey of community attitudes (2017) by found:

  • Over three quarters believe speed limits are reasonable, fewer than 90% in 2004
  • Over a quarter, especially males and heavy vehicle drivers, believe it’s acceptable to speed while driving safely
  • Nearly a fifth of drivers were booked for speeding in the past 2 years and more likely to be heavy vehicle or frequent distance drivers
  • We know alcohol can kill but only 40% approve (and 38% disapprove) of lowering the limit
  • Most drivers want to use mobile phones while driving and oppose a law banning hands-free mobile phones
  • Around half of drivers drive while fatigued, most likely 15-24 year olds, males, frequent distance drivers and commuters.

Changing attitudes is one thing; changing behaviour is another.

It’s not easy to change behaviour

A lot of road safety campaigns seem to imply that if people knew better, they would do better. However, the thought that people will behave sensibly when shown what is dangerous is flawed. People aren’t that rational. For example:

It doesn’t work to scare people. While some road safety campaigns are based on fear, that doesn’t mean people will change. They can respond defensively by claiming the campaign is too sensational, isn’t relevant to their driving, or by avoiding it altogether.

Breaking the rules can be automatic. Just as driving a car is automatic, it’s possible that traffic behaviour is equally automatic. This includes breaking the law, and there may be no conscious decision to do so.

We can be influenced subconsciously. We don’t need to be aware of being influenced. When study participants made sentences using words like bingo, begonias and Florida (associated with older people) they crossed a certain distance more slowly!

Many campaigns portray bad behaviour. If the behaviour is something many people already do, the campaign may normalise the very behaviour it wants to discourage.

A culture of road safety

The aim of the National Strategy is to create a culture of road safety. It will be a challenge to make road safety everyone’s responsibility. However, it’s encouraging to see a wider approach to road safety that goes beyond “safe roads, safe speeds, safe vehicles and safe people”.

Do you think the new National Strategy will be more effective than the old one in reducing deaths and injuries on the roads? If it is, then should your greenslip become cheaper?

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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