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Thursday, 12 April 1973
Page: 1442

Mr CHARLES JONES (Newcastle) (Minister for Transport and Minister for Civil Aviation) - by leave - The lives of all of us are constantly at risk each time we take to the roads, whether as motorists, cyclists or pedestrians. We have a wonderful but large country. We have over 5 million vehicles driving on more than half a million miles of roads.

We have almost 3 million school children, a considerable proportion of whom are cyclists. Finally all Australians, more than 13 million of us, spend part of our time as pedestrians. Given the geographical distribution of our population and industry, safe and efficient transport is the life blood of our economic and social well being. The Australian community devotes about 20 per cent of the resources available to it to the provision of transport services. Nevertheless we managed to kill some 3,400 fellow Australians on our roads last year. 1 am always deeply shocked when I hear of the terrible deaths and injuries we inflict on one another on our roads. I find little consolation in the fact that injury producing accidents - that is, those resulting in injuries which require medical attention - occur only once in every 750,000 vehicle miles. This means that the complex road transport system involving the vehicle, the road environment and the road user and his social environment is working with a fair degree of efficiency. However, we cannot ignore the fact that there were about 90,000 people injured last year in road accidents.

We have a mobile community and the realisation of the full potential of this great country will depend in large measure on retention of this mobility. The test is not whether we have with the benefit of compulsory seat belt wearing done better or worse than selected overseas countries; the test is whether we have done as well as we could. What troubles me most about all of this is that we do not mean to kill or maim our fellow Australians. Each tragedy is in this sense an accident but the accidents keep happening with frightening regularity.

There are 2 things which we must recognise. First, we are seeking a high degree of safety and efficiency in this complex road transport system and we will achieve this only by a sustained professional approach. Second, it is little use shrugging our shoulders and saying it is primarily a matter for the States. The States have been doing what they could in their own way but this has not been good enough. The time is long overdue for the Australian Government to give a strong lead and support to the States in this regard.

The Australian Government has decided that it must involve itself more directly in a more vigorous, co-ordinated and multi-disciplinary approach to road safety at the national level. The Australian Government has decided to do 5 main things. First, the toll on Australian roads is a national problem and as such warrants the urgent attention of this, the national Parliament. I will be moving for the reappointment of the Select Committee on Road Safety so that Parliament will be given an opportunity to play a full and proper part in developing policies in such vital areas as drinking and driving, speed, driver training and so on.

Second, we will undertake, in co-operation with the States, a program of improvements at those locations where accidents keep occurring for one reason or another. We are in the process of commissioning a survey of what needs to be done at these locations with poor accident records. I trust that the States will co-operate fully with us in this national survey so that it will serve as a sound basis for action by all levels of government. Third, a central information service is to be provided for all those who are working in road safety. This will be located in the Department of Transport in Canberra but its resources will be available to people throughout the nation. Not only will the information service cover the local road safety scene in depth but details will also t-e provided of the latest developments overseas, including the results of research undertaken *n other road safety conscious countries. Fourth, we are increasing the technical and other resources devoted to vehicle safety, traffic codes, education and publicity and road safety research. Perhaps members will be interested in some of the research projects which will make up our comprehensive program. Studies recently have been completed on a review of vehicle design requirements in relation to top speed, the dynamic testing of seat belts, and a review of truck and bus safety in relation to road safety. Projects currently being undertaken include a sociological study of drivers involved in serious accidents; effectiveness of Victorian seat belt wearing legislation; review of United States traffic court practices; effectiveness of defensive driving courses - feasibility study; driver behaviour at 'stop' and give way' signs; effectiveness of Victorian 70 mph speed limit; improved seat belt design to increase acceptability: requirements for drivers' forward field of view; survey of vehicle inspection schemes; and the effect of vehicle colour on accidents - study design.

Further studies are to be undertaken on the effects of severe penalties on road safety; effectiveness of licence suspension; sentencing of traffic offenders; company road safety schemes; road user behaviour as it relates to accidents; feasibility of evaluating the effectiveness of television films of driver error in accident-reduction; optimum licensing age; effectiveness of saturation publicity on television; improved seat belt design; study of injuries where seatbelts were worn; motor vehicle signalling systems; town planning guidelines for road safety guidelines for evaluating priority roads; local street traffic control; design of rural in-depth studies; Queensland accident and mileage study; and, New South Wales pedestrian accident study. From these facts it readily can be seen that there still is quite a field for road safety conscious people to investigate and to participate in.

Finally, honourable members will recall the comprehensive report by the Expert Group on Road Safety headed by Mr Justice Meares tabled in this House late last year. I have asked the members of the Expert Group to continue their efforts at least until the Select Committee has had a chance to report. The Expert Group has already proved itself with its national review of the road accident situation. Much of the research now being undertaken stems from recommendations by the Expert Group. 1 look forward to receiving further advice from the Expert Group, especially in the important fields of road safety information and research. The majority of our drivers are under 40 years of age. The greatest number of deaths and injuries occur to motorists under the age of 30 years. To say nothing of the loss in human terms, the nation simply cannot afford this continuing carnage among the very citizens on whom we rely to build an even better Australia in the decades ahead.

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