Source: The Mercury, 14 April, 2001, p.28


Speed's saddest sequel

 

 
By ELLEN WHINNETT 
and DANNY ROSE 
 
AUSTRALIA'S 
roads have 
tallied more 
victims than 
our participation 
in four major 
wars. 
 
   Figures show more than 
164,200 lives have been 
lost in road accidents since 
the first records were kept in 
1925. 
 
   The Australian Bureau of 
Statistics highlights the fact 
that the toll is more than 
double the 89,850 Australians 
killed in the biggest wars 
last century. 
 
   The figures show also that 
Tasmanian road deaths run to 
11.3 per 100,000 of 
population - compared with 
the national average of 9.3 
per 100,000. The state falls 
into third place behind the 
Northern Territory (25.4 per 
100,000), which has an open 
speed limit and Western 
Australia (11.7 per 100,000). 
 
   So far this year, 27 people 
have died on the state's roads, 
up from 14 deaths for the same 
period last year. 
 
   The public, road safety 
officials and police are 
united in deep concern at 
this figure which averages 
out to about two deaths 
a week. 
 
   Questions are being 
asked about what more can 
be done to prevent 
Tasmanians killing 
themselves and others when 
they get behind the wheel. 
 
   Education and enforcement have 
been the key strategies of 
recent years -- the Tasmania 
Police annual report for last 
year shows 10 million 
vehicles were checked for 
speeding. Of these 0.65 per 
cent were found to be 
speeding, continuing a 
three-year trend which has seen 
the numbers of speeding 
drivers decrease. 
 
Between 1925 and 1970 the 
national road toll rose 
consistently, peaking at 3789 
deaths in one year. Now, it is 
about half that - 1761 deaths 
in 1999-thanks to the 
introduction of compulsory 
wearing of seat belts, better car 
safety design, random breath 
testing and speed and red-light 
cameras from the late '80s. 
 
   The Federal and state 
governments have set a target 
of reducing road deaths to 
1600 a year by 2005. 
 
   Last calendar year, Tasmania 
recorded 43 road deaths, down 
from 53 in 1999, 48 in 1998 
and the record lowest death rate 
of 32 fatalities in 1997. Road 
safety experts hope the 
disastrous first three months of 
this year are just an aberration. 
 
   The state's senior traffic 
policeman is Assistant 
Commissioner (Crime and 
Operations) Barry Bennett. He 
knows first-hand the pain and 
trauma of traffic accidents: his 
23-year-old son Ty was killed 
in a single-vehicle accident in 
February 1999. 
 
   Ty, a constable with 
Tasmania Police, was 
responding to an alarm when 
his police car overturned. 
 
   The loss of his son was 
devastating but day after day 
Bennett  has to confront 
road safety issues as the 
police representative 
responsible for road 
safety. 
 
   "You try to live through it 
but it doesn't lessen the 
pain," he said. 
 
   People needed to understand 
the impact a fatality had on 
the community, he said. For 
every person killed, many 
more were affected - 
families, friends, workmates, 
schoolmates and emergency 
service workers and 
volunteers. 
 
   Bennett said people should 
consider the ramifications of 
their actions when they got 
behind the wheel of a car. 
 
   "It really is about attitude 
and driving to the 
conditions," he said. 
 
The 27 deaths in the first 
three months of this year, he 
said, should have sent a 
strong warning to 
Tasmanians, yet people 
continued to speed and 
commit other traffic offences. 
 
   This week in the Eastern 
police district, a speed camera 
was set up in a school zone. In 
just 35 minutes, 28 vehicles 
were caught speeding. 
 
   It was immensely 
frustrating for police, who 
don't know what else they can 
do to persuade drivers to slow 
down and take more care. 
 
   "It comes down to changing 
driver behaviour," said 
Bennett. 
 
   In 1983, random breath 
testing was introduced in 
Tasmania and now, almost 20 
years later, alcohol figures in 
fewer accidents than ever. 
 
   Bennett believes this is 
because most people have 
accepted that alcohol 
and driving should not go 
together. 
 
   "There's still a bit of alcohol 
involved but over the 
years it's become a no-no," 
he said. "There's a fair bit of 
conscious effort made to stop 
driving if you've been 
drinking. 
 
   "But speeding ... people 
still don't have that attitude 
about speeding. 
 
   "With drink-driving, if 
you're over the limit, you're 
going to be that way for some 
time. With speeding, you can 
be up and over the limit and 
down again in a matter of 
seconds." 
 
   He said police and road 
safety officials were looking 
at other ways to reduce deaths 
and injuries on the roads. 
 
   Among the ideas to achieve 
that are pamphlets in hire 
cars, written in languages 
other than English, to warn 
tourists about the state's many
windy and gravel roads.
	The RACT was pushing for
better signage and a new
speed. limit of 50km/h was
expected to be introduced for
built-up areas.
	Four-time Targa Tasmania
winner and motor racing
commentator Barry Oliver has
been teaching people to drive
defensively for the past nine
years.
	He believes a scheme
similar to that for obtaining a
motorcycle licence where
applicants attend two day-
long driving courses -
should be introduced for
anyone seeking a car licence.
The Road Safety Council is
considering such a proposal. 
 
   "Once that was introduced 
with motorcycles there was a 
significant drop in the number 
of people killed or injured," 
said Oliver. 
 
   "We've got to go back to 
basics and teach people how 
quickly things can go wrong. 
 
It's simple things - like 
having no understanding tyres, 
driving too close to drivers in 
front and not picking up on 
hazards quickly enough." 
 
   With 12,000 new car 
licences applied for each year, 
Oliver said one hurdle was the 
logistical problem mandatory 
defensive driving courses 
would lead to. 
 
   Still he believes people 
need to be better educated on 
what a big responsibility 
driving is. 
 
   "I do a lot of miles and it 
never ceases to amaze me the 
way people drive," he said. 
 
   "Unless you're a 
thrillseeker and you race in 
Targa or jump out of planes or 
go bungyjumping, driving is 
the most dangerous thing you 
can do. I don't think a lot of
people realise that."
	Oliver said people,
including very experienced
drivers like himself, would
always make mistakes on the
road.
	"We are not infallible - we
are human and we are capable
of making mistakes," he said.
"What we have to realise is
that a vehicle is a deadly
weapon."
	He said more regular police
patrols on rural roads and an
increase in the number of
vehicle inspections by
Transport Department officers
would help.
	The Motor Accident
Insurance Board, which was
formed to provide financial
compensation in the wake of
accidents, has a big interest in 
cutting the numbers of deaths 
and serious injuries on 
Tasmanian roads. 
 
   A fatality claim can cost 
MAIB anything from $3500 
for a funeral to $500,000 if a 
person with dependents was 
killed because of the 
negligence of another. 
 
   A future care claim, in 
which a person needs paid care 
as a result of an accident, can 
range from a very small sum 
up to $10 million depending 
on their age and the number of 
hours of care a day required. 
 
   In 1996, the MAIB decided 
to finance the establishment 
of the Road Safety Task Force, 
which looks at safety 
innovations. The money also 
employs 16 police dedicated 
full-time to traffic law 
enforcement and pays for an 
education campaign, mostly 
through media advertising. 
 
   Task force chairman Paul 
Hogan said the MAIB had 
invested $5.8 million so far 
and had agreed to a further 
round of cash. 
	He said the falling road toll
over the past few years
indicated the task force had
been successful in reducing serious
and fatal accidents.
	"Until this past quarter we
can claim success," he said
"This quarter caught us very
much off-guard. I believe, and
hope very much, it [the toll] is
an aberration."
	Hogan said the most
dangerous assumption people
could make was that they
would not be involved in
road accident.
	"Most people believe it
won't happen to them," he
said. "We are trying to correct
that mind-set."


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