Almost 1300 people died on our roads last year, making 2016 the second successive year to see a rise in the figures, after decades of decline. The increase has left many trying to figure out why.
Since 1970, when the national road toll reached more than 3,000, millions of dollars have been poured into public education and safety campaigns.
New road rules have been implemented, more extensive education for young drivers has been introduced, and we have vigilant police patrols . Improvements have been made to our roads and motorways too, and the cars we drive are safer than ever before.
All of these factors have contributed to declining fatalities for more than four decades, until 2015 when there was a noticeable spike in the figures. So what’s going on?
Mobile devices to blame
Police are partly blaming the increase on the growing use of mobile devices. Despite mobile phone use being illegal while driving, as many as 32% of drivers admit to reading a text message while driving, and 18% admit to sending a text message.
Pedestrian fatalities have also leapt by 20 per cent over the past year, with police laying some of the blame on too much attention being paid to smart phones and tablets, and not enough on surroundings.
The latest figures from the Transport NSW Centre for Road Safety suggest that 384 people were killed last year on NSW roads alone . This represents a 10 per cent increase in numbers from 2015, with an alarming 42 per cent jump in deaths among those aged between 17 and 25. Road deaths among those aged between 26 and 39 rose by about 15 per cent.
There were also noticeable increases in other jurisdictions: 291 people died in Victoria, 250 in Queensland, 193 in Western Australia, 87 in South Australia, 38 in Tasmania and 10 in the ACT. In Northern Territory, the rate is steady at 45.
Deputy chair of the NSW parliament’s StaySafe committee, Scott Farlow, says the figures are of “significant concern”.
A parliamentary inquiry called late last year is set to examine driver education, driver training and road safety. Submissions from the public close in February, and one idea that has already being discussed is ‘whole of life’ driver training – which would require training at various stages of our lives, rather than just once.
What can we do?
Road trauma costs the taxpayer more than $30 billion dollars a year, and the latest results do nothing to help state governments reach their collective goal of a 30% reduction in road deaths between 2011 and 2020.
We all have a part to play in addressing these climbing figures, and that is to adhere to the rules in order to keep ourselves and other road users safe.