Years pass with more talk but no traction on road toll

The 2018 crash on the Monaro Highway, in which a truck ploughed into the rear of a stationary car and killed a four-year-old boy in the back seat. Improved brake technology would have minimised the impact. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos
The 2018 crash on the Monaro Highway, in which a truck ploughed into the rear of a stationary car and killed a four-year-old boy in the back seat. Improved brake technology would have minimised the impact. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

The death of a driver hit by a truck carrying an excavator on the Barton Highway last week rocketed the ACT road toll to nine, the highest in four years and triple the number of people in the territory who have died from COVID-19.

The latest ACT road death came in the same week as the Joint Select Committee on Road Safety began hearing public submissions into ways of reducing road trauma.

The committee's goal is to report on measures which can be taken to reduce death and trauma on Australian roads.

Despite two of the country's most populous states being in lockdown, the national road toll was 757 to the end of August 2021, 6.3 per cent higher than at the same time last year and exactly the same as it was three years ago.

Last year's national pandemic lockdown, which dramatically reduced traffic loads across the country for months on end, had a profound effect on the road toll, dropping it to 1093, the lowest since 1945.

But that artificial suppression flatters the real picture, which shows the rate of decline in road deaths has flattened.

The latest federal inquiry comes after the previous national road safety strategy, encompassing the nine years from 2011-2020, was deemed an abysmal policy failure by key stakeholders, including the NRMA.

Experts believe many crashes could be avoided by mandatory fitment of automatic braking technology. Picture: Karleen Minney

Experts believe many crashes could be avoided by mandatory fitment of automatic braking technology. Picture: Karleen Minney

The poor outcome trajectory of the strategy was apparent as early as 2018, when an independent inquiry was established led by associate professor Jeremy Woolley from the Centre for Automotive Safety Research and respected trauma surgeon Dr John Crozier.

They found road safety performance in Australia had "stalled" and the country needed a "dramatic change in road safety management".

Former head of the Australian Automobile Association (AAA) and chairman of crash safety authority ANCAP, Lauchlan McIntosh, who assisted with that assessment, said there was a clear need to mandate the latest safety technologies into new vehicles as soon as possible.

He said the dithering by bureaucrats and government had to stop.

He offered a simple case study of autonomous emergency braking (AEB), an established technology which uses sensors to automatically activate a vehicle's braking system to prevent or minimise rear end collisions.

AEB was introduced into the European market in 2006 and is now mandated in the European Union.

A study published in January last year, commissioned by the federal government and conducted by Monash University, found the mandating of this simple braking technology could reduce road trauma in fatal and all injury crashes by between 15 to 38 per cent.

The call for mandating this technology, particularly on heavy vehicles, has been supported by a wide range of informed stakeholders including crash experts ANCAP, the AAA, and Royal Australasian College of Surgeons.

There also appears little doubt the fitment of AEB to the landscaping truck which struck a stationary family Ford Territory from behind on the Monaro Highway four years ago would have potentially saved the life of four-year-old Blake Corney.

The boy was killed instantly from a brain injury when a tipper truck company owned by a Canberra landscaping company slammed into the car, which was stopped at a red light. ACT chief coroner Lorraine Walker is yet to pass down her findings from the June inquest in the death.

Eight long years ago, the late Barry Cohen MP, the former chair of the House of Representatives Road Safety Committee, gave a very clear message to regulators when he described AEB as "one of the most exciting developments in preventing accidents".

"Why haven't governments passed laws to make AEB compulsory? This borders on criminal negligence," he said.


This story Failing to act on life-saving vehicle braking technology 'borders on criminal negligence' first appeared on The Canberra Times.