Some comments on the National Road Safety Strategy

The Australian Automobile Association (AAA) has recently released a report assessing the performance of the Australian Government’s National Road Safety Strategy (NRSS). This strategy is due to run for 10 years from 2011-2020, with the objective of reducing annual road deaths by 30 per cent.

Unsurprisingly, the AAA has found that the NRSS has fallen well below this target, reducing the road toll by only 13 per cent over the last 7 years. If there was ever a map that so accurately highlighted how misguided government approaches are to road safety, this is it:

NRSS National Status

The AAA’s assessment of the progress of the NRSS towards reducing road fatalities.

To be fair though, any drop in road fatalities is a positive outcome, and a reduction of 13 percent is certainly worthy of commendation. But despite this outcome, the NRSS remains just another example of narrow-minded and short-sighted government policy.

For example, one of the cornerstones of the NRSS is the objective of “safe speeds”, with one of the main directions used to achieve this goal being “a substantial improvement with overall compliance in speed limits” through mechanisms such as increasing the number of mobile speed cameras and unmarked police cars.

In addition to ‘safe speeds’, the other cornerstones of the NRSS (safe people, safe roads, and safe vehicles) all reflect a well-intentioned approach to improving the safety of motoring, however they all exhibit the same crucial flaw that has characterised government policy for decades.

Rather than taking a holistic approach and recognizing that there are fundamental problems with the regulatory system for driving in Australia, the NRSS seeks to simply operate within the system that already exists.

By doing things like conducting reviews of speed limits against the guidelines, without actually considering changing the guidelines themselves, or adding new tests to the licensing system, without actually considering the priorities that the licensing system encourages, strategies such as the NRSS will always fail to deliver anything more than change on the surface.

That is what the 13 per cent reduction reflects – a change on the surface, without any fundamental change to the system itself. If governments are serious about reducing road fatalities, they must realise that there is more to achieving this goal than simple compliance and regulation. The system must work towards instilling a different attitude in drivers – an attitude where drivers actually understand the capabilities of their cars, and the dangers of driving, and as a consequence are required to use discretion and good judgement to navigate our roads.

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