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Australian transport minister shines spotlight on road safety

“Standing here in the magnificent Sydney Opera House, with the Sydney Harbour Bridge behind me, it gives me great pleasure to take part in launching the Fourth UN Global Road Safety Week, on behalf of the World Health Organisation’s Western Pacific Region. Tonight is really special.”
These were the words of Australia’s Minister of Infrastructure and Transport, Mr Darren Chester, speaking at an event to mark Global Road Safety Week from May 7-14.
For the first time the Sydney Harbour Bridge, one of the most recognised pieces of transport infrastructure in the world, was lit up in yellow as a reflection of the importance of the week. The following paragraphs are excerpts from Mr Chester’s speech at the event.
Australia’s domestic approach to road safety
As today’s event highlights, the need to make our roads safer is a complex and evolving problem at the national and international level.
Australia has a well-earned international reputation as a leader in road safety, both through our strong record of continuous improvement domestically, and through the Australian government’s ongoing efforts to make a contribution to improving safety internationally.

Mr Darren Chester.

Here in Australia, three levels of government cooperatively pursue our various road safety responsibilities under the National Road Safety Strategy.
The Safe System approach, advocated by the World Health Organisation, is absolutely embedded in this work. It encompasses complementary interventions that work together to create safer roads, safer vehicles, safer speeds, and safer behaviour by road users. 
The country’s immediate goal under the National Road Safety Strategy is to reduce the annual numbers of deaths and serious injuries by at least 30 percent by 2020.
“Given that we are in 2017, to achieve the 2020 target, all Australian governments must work together more closely, and continue to implement measures and take actions that will secure improvements to address the recent increases we have seen in road crash deaths and in serious injuries,” the minister said.
Australia’s international efforts
As a developed nation, and one with a strong record of achievement in improving road safety, Australia has both the capacity and the responsibility to assist other nations in reducing the number of deaths and serious injuries on the world’s roads.
Developing safer transport infrastructure is an integral part of the Australian government’s approach to expanding international economic and educational opportunities.
Participation in the United Nations and the World Health Organisation offers the opportunity to share Australia’s success and to work together on the challenges it faces in the Western Pacific Region.
“Here I particularly acknowledge the International Road Assessment Programme, which has played an enormous role in raising awareness and providing tools to rate the safety of roads and to plan and prioritise investment,” Mr Chester said.
The Australian government has longstanding and extensive road infrastructure programmes underway across South East Asia and the Pacific, which are assisting with the construction of safer and more robust roads at both the rural and national network level.
Australia also has major road transport infrastructure development programmes in Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, and Vietnam, with smaller programmes in the Mekong and across the Pacific.
Safety is a fundamental right
Safety is a fundamental right and an essential condition for the sustainable development of society.
“You heard from WHO that someone dies on the Western Pacific Region’s roads every 95 seconds, and that each death is preventable.
In recognition of all those who have died in road crashes, I will now ask for a minute’s silence,” Mr Chester said.
Speed, which is the UN’s theme for this year’s Global Road Safety Week, is a major factor in serious road crashes.
“It is important for two reasons, firstly, travel speed affects the chance of a crash happening at all and secondly, the speed at which the vehicles are travelling determines the severity of a crash when it does happen,” he added.
In high-income countries, speed contributes to around one third of road deaths, while in low and middle-income countries this proportion is around half.
Improving safety is more than putting up speed limit signs – it demands the combined ongoing efforts of road users, governments, private road managers and vehicle manufacturers.
He explained that as Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, my day-to-day work is to drive improvements to Australia’s road transport system.
Improvements to roads can provide Australians with greater access to education, employment, health care, as well as higher business efficiency, and can also make an important contribution to safety.
“Governments must invest in safer roads and do their share of the heavy lifting,” he mentioned. The Australian government’s AUS$50 billion infrastructure investment programme can, and is already, changing lives by reducing congestion, improving productivity and getting people home sooner.
Importantly, it is also saving lives by investing in engineering solutions, such as getting trucks off the road and more freight on to rail, and continuing to fund local improvements through the Roads to Recovery and community-led Black Spot programmes.
Despite these efforts there are still roads in Australia, many of our rural, undivided roads, where the speed limit is 100 kilometres per hour.
On these roads even a slight decrease in speed can greatly lessen the likelihood of death or serious injury. Lowering motorists’ speeds in built up areas can also make an enormous contribution to lowering unacceptably high pedestrian fatality rates.
Speed is a critical element of the Safe System approach, both in terms of ensuring speed limits are appropriate for the roads and environment, and that road users comply with speed limits.
Surveys show that people know higher speeds increase the risk of crashing and make crashes more severe. But we still see considerable community resistance to reductions in speed limits, understandably because of the perceived impacts on time and efficiency. 
Mr Chester said that that is why involved sectors need to engage the community in a wider discussion on how to achieve safer speeds, a discussion that looks honestly at both community concerns and the available evidence.
However, introducing safer speeds is only one pillar of the Safe System approach. “We must also keep working to achieve better roads, better vehicles and better drivers,” he explained.
Safe systems approach
To achieve the vision contained in our own National Road Safety Strategy – that no person should be killed or seriously injured on Australia’s roads – Mr Chester said that need to continue to embrace the Safe System, recognising that people will always make mistakes and may have crashes – but the system should be forgiving, and those crashes should not result in death or serious injury.
Given the recent rise in road deaths across Australia, the government will be conducting an inquiry into the National Road Safety Strategy.
The safe system acknowledges the complexity of the problem and offers some solutions. All parts of the system need to work together so that if one part fails, the others still protect people in a crash.
Continuing to improve the safety standards of Australia’s vehicle fleet is crucially important.
A safer vehicle may turn a potentially serious injury into a minor one, reduce pain and suffering, and save the health budget millions of dollars in follow up treatment.
The Global New Car Assessment Programme and the various NCAPS around the world, including ANCAP, have made a huge difference in vehicle safety through their consumer safety ratings and advocacy for safer vehicles.
“A specific issue I am considering at the moment is the risk of mobile phone use while driving. Just about every driver in Australia has a mobile phone and we have all seen people texting or checking their phones in the car,” he stressed.
“Mobile phone distraction has come up repeatedly in my conversations about the causes of road trauma with police, state ministers and road safety experts.
It is a hard one to properly research because people aren’t necessarily going to admit they were using their phone if they run off the road.”
To support the work being carried out, Mr Chester is looking closely at technological approaches intended to assist drivers to avoid the temptation of using their phones while driving.
“I have commissioned some research in this area and I will be exploring this further with telecommunications companies and my state and territory colleagues.” 
“I am also proud of Australia’s progress in pioneering roadside drug testing in addition to our longstanding alcohol testing regime.”
He notes the efforts Australian state and territory governments are already taking to increase the effectiveness of roadside drug testing.
He has commissioned work to support its broader roll out so involved authorities can begin to replicate the success of alcohol testing regimes.
“We are now on the home stretch of the Decade of Action for Road Safety, which ends in 2020,” he said. This is a natural time to take stock of how we are progressing, and how to work towards a new target.
“Despite some setbacks, we are headed in the right direction. Road safety has become a priority at the highest levels of global politics.
It should also be a personal priority,” he concluded.

By Xaysana Leukai
(Latest Update May 18, 2017)


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