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Thursday, 4 May 1989
Page: 1804

Senator COLLINS(3.26) —I will be very brief in responding to this matter. I want to make just one point in response to some of the comments that I have just heard on the bicentennial roads program. It is a constant theme that the condition of Australian roads is responsible-and according to some of the speakers who have involved themselves in this debate, wholly responsible-for serious road accidents, numerous tragic deaths and even, in some cases, perhaps even more horrible, disabling injuries that people carry for a lifetime.

Senator Crowley —It is disgraceful.

Senator COLLINS —Indeed. As someone who has had many years of direct involvement in this area, I will make a point that has to be made in terms of quoting horrific road accidents as evidence of the conditions of the roads around this country. In all the road accidents that I attended-and I have lost count of how many there were, but there were hundreds-I can honestly say that in eight years as a divisional officer with St John Ambulance I cannot remember one single serious road accident resulting in death or serious injury in which alcohol was not involved.

Senator Michael Baume —Have a look at the Hume Highway.

Senator COLLINS —Let me make it clear that I am not suggesting that the conditions of roads do not contribute to this. Of course they do. I am not suggesting that this is in any way a defence of a lack of road funding by any government, but I make the obvious point that if a person driving on a highway, particularly at a high risk time, particularly Easter weekends and Friday evenings on the way out of town and Sunday evenings on the way back-I personally solve the problem by not even being on the road at these times-with his family, particularly young children, inside the motor vehicle, does not adjust the manner in which he is driving at least to be reasonably consistent with the condition of a bad road, in my view he is behaving in a criminal fashion. The difficulty is that so many people continue to do so. I have no doubt that we can all give numerous examples of driving in bad weather conditions-one of the principal killers-such as fog or heavy rain, slowing down to adjust the speed of the vehicle consistent with those conditions and having vehicle after vehicle overtaking one at high speed. Serious road accidents in this country are still, in the main, caused by driver error, not the condition of the roads. This is also the case for light aircraft accidents. Eighty per cent of fatal light aircraft accidents are caused by pilot error and not air traffic control or the condition of runways.

The fact is that while Australians continue to think that they can drink alcohol and then drive, usually at a high speed and get away with it, there will continue to be the horrific road toll which we suffer in this country.

Senator Michael Baume —There is no disagreement with that.

Senator COLLINS —Senator, I am sure that there will be no disagreement with me on my next point, which is consistent with my basic philosophy on life. I would not lose any sleep if the only people who were ever hurt were the people who were responsible for such behaviour. The great difficulty, of course, is that that is almost never the case. I know, as I am sure we all do, of tragic cases. I can think of one case in which the person responsible for condemning children to a lifetime of misery in a wheelchair got off scott free. The great difficulty is drinking and driving. I am not saying that the condition of the roads does not contribute to the problem but when finally Australians come to grips with driving responsibly there will be far fewer accidents and far less death and injury on our roads.

Question resolved in the affirmative.