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Wednesday, 18 October 2017
Page: 7980


Senator GALLACHER (South Australia) (19:30): My contribution is on road safety. Last week I was in the great city of Perth, attending the Australasian Road Safety Conference—a very insightful conference, gathering the top minds from around Australasia. It was put on by the Australasian College of Road Safety, Austroads and other major sponsors, and it had over 650 participating delegates. What that tells you is the seriousness that all of the respective state jurisdictions place on road safety.

The keynote speaker was Dr Mark Rosekind, and, as is usual with most of our keynote speakers and visitors from the United States or other jurisdictions, he was a very fine communicator. Dr Rosekind was very straightforward and simple. His attitude, as the administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration under the Obama regime, was: the day he was appointed, he knew his end date. He knew the day that his term would finish, because he would finish alongside President Obama. So, knowing the span of his appointment, he immediately set about working out what he could do, and he said to his design people and his safety people, in all of the areas of the very large entity that he was in control of: 'What can we do? I want to leave this having done something very good for road safety.' You have got to realise that, in the United States, there are 35,000 people killed every year—35,000. So what he said is: 'There are good emerging technologies and I want them in place. I want autonomous braking technology in place. How long will it take for us to legislate that?' The considered response was: 'Under the American design rules, probably about 12 years.' He said: 'Well, I'm not going to go down that path. I'm going to tell the industry that I'm regulating this.' And he made a pronouncement.

Let's look at what happened. Last year, in the United States, the US Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety announced a historic commitment by 20 auto-makers, representing 99 per cent of the US auto market, to make autonomous or automatic emergency braking a standard feature on virtually all new cars, no later than the 2022 reporting year. But then the manufacturers—and I will just tell you the names of these manufacturers, because they are quite familiar to Australian consumers: Audi, BMW, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar, Land Rover, Kia, Maserati, Madsen, Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi Motors, Nissan, Porsche, Subaru, Tesla, Toyota, Volkswagen and Volvo Cars—having seen that flag put up, that he was going to legislate, immediately consulted and said: 'We will comply. You won't need to legislate. We're going to do this.'

What happened next is even more interesting. So this commitment was made, and then Nissan pledged to have a million cars with AEB in 2018, immediately followed by Toyota and Lexus, who said: 'In 2017, all our vehicles will have autonomous braking technology as standard in the US.' So, from a creative position taken by an administrator who knew his end date, you now have a huge saving in lives and serious injuries in the United States because an administrator got out the front and took a courageous position, determined that he would make a difference. And that is exactly what has happened.

If we've got 650 people contributing to a road safety conference in Australia, that tells us we've got the brain power, the research capability, the energy, the interest and the financial commitment of the states in this very great area. I don't want to sound at all negative about the Hon. Darren Chester—he is a great advocate for road safety—but it's a tiny portion of the work that his department does. They barely have five full-time positions in that department. There is no ability to see the kind of leadership that Dr Rosekind showed in the United States.

We know this technology works. We know that it can reduce impact collisions—rear-end and head-on collisions—by some 40 per cent. Dr Rosekind was very good at communicating that road transport is the only area where we don't democratise safety. All of us travel on aircraft: we don't go to the cockpit and look for an ANCAP five-star safe plane. Every plane is safe to a very high standard. But when we buy a car the features are listed by the manufacturer and put through the Australasian safety regime, and consumers have to find their way to it. Unfortunately, most of the vulnerable consumers don't buy new cars. They buy second-hand cars or third-hand cars, so they're travelling in vehicles which are not up to the standards of new vehicles.

The sooner we accept that 94 per cent of drivers make mistakes—we're fragile; we're not meant to travel at speed; and we always will make mistakes—the sooner we'll get features in the car that take over when people have inattention or people do not see something that the car sees. Every car after 2006 has a data port in it. That data port needs to be open for the communication between all of our emerging technologies. Cars will talk to themselves, and intersections will talk to the cars. There's even a situation at the moment where some cars have been imported into Australia with this very good technology but can't recognise our road signs! In Europe, the road signs are standard. We've got an immense amount of work to do in the line-marking area.

The real challenge is that the federal government—and I mean all federal governments of recent persuasion—has not taken the lead in this space. You have 650 delegates. You can see little or no coordination from the federal government outside of Austroads—who have 200,000 kilometres of bitumen road to maintain. Someone needs to get into the space of safety.

We need to be mandating these technologies. We need to be looking at the interaction of vehicles with infrastructure at intersections. We're told you can get a piece of software that would mean you wouldn't have to stop at a red light. Your car would be advised of what speed to travel at to get all the green lights. We know there is technology which means you'll never be T-boned again. If you're going through a green light and someone wants to do a red-light runner, the car will stop. You don't have to make a decision: the car will stop for you.

This is an area we don't appear to be putting a lot of emphasis on in this federal parliament. As I have said, I'm not terribly critical of the Hon. Darren Chester. He's probably the fourth minister in this space that hasn't had road safety and the emerging technologies as a top agenda item for his department. When you look into the budget papers and you realise there's only 3.8 or 4.8 permanent public servants in the entire department in this space, you can't really be too critical of the lack of evidence of forward thinking and forward planning.

What we do know is we're no longer making motor cars in Australia—the last day will probably be this week. There is an opportunity for us to mandate these technologies from the people who are supplying the motor vehicles. If the suppliers want to go to the United States they'll have to comply, and if they want to go to the European Union they'll have to comply. We should be saying, 'If you want to bring in any of the million cars that are sold in Australia each year, you'll need to comply with these emerging technology requirements.' We will very likely affect the entire supply chain in Asia. If the tooling of the plant in Thailand that makes cars to come to Australia has to include autonomous braking technology, lane-keeping assist and intelligent portals so that the car can talk to other cars and/or intersections and infrastructure, we will probably make the whole of Asia safer. All we do know is that we cannot rely on the manufacturers to do it themselves. They are not going to democratise safety; there is no evidence they have done it in the past. It's up to governments like our government to take the lead, to prioritise road safety, to make the roads safer, to make the cars safer and to make the travelling public safer. It's all there for us to do and there is a wealth of experience and knowledge in Australia to make it happen. There's just a lack of political will.