Of all the things we do at Transport, working to reduce deaths and injuries on NSW roads is one of the most important. Following the recent release of our Road Safety Plan 2021, Transport Mode takes a closer look at one of our biggest road safety challenges — saving lives on country roads.
If you had to say who was more likely to die in a road crash — someone living in the country or the city — what would you answer?
If you said city then you’re not alone but you’re also wrong. In fact, contrary to popular belief, people living in country areas of NSW are four times more likely to die in a road crash than city dwellers.
What’s more, even though only a third of the NSW population lives in country areas, country people make up more than two thirds of the fatalities on our roads.
In 2017, that was 272 lives lost on country roads. That’s 272 family members, 272 friends, 272 team mates, 272 people just like us.
The reasons behind this are many and varied. For a start, people in the country often don’t have access to public transport and rely more heavily on their cars.
Older vehicles, light trucks and utilities which can have fewer safety features as newer vehicles are also more common in country areas. Just over 37% of cars registered in regional areas have a 5 star safety rating compared to the city at 45%.
Many country roads lack the safety features that help prevent a crash or protect people if one occurs. They are often high speed 100km/h roads with no wire rope barriers, wide centre lines or rumble strips — proven safeguards that can reduce fatal and serious injury crashes.
Country driving also involves higher speeds, bigger distances and longer driving times, and more trees and animals can make crashes more severe when they do happen.
And our research shows that risky driver behaviour is a significant factor in country crashes — speeding, driving while tired, driving under the influence and not wearing a seatbelt.
Targeting a turnaround
It’s our responsibility as an organisation and individuals to take the lead on turning this trend around as we work towards our goal of zero deaths and serious injuries on NSW roads.
And so we’re doing even more. We’re implementing a whole range of initiatives targeted at safer country roads, vehicles and drivers.
Head of the Centre for Road Safety Bernard Carlon says for example, around half of country fatalities involve a car crossing the centre line and almost a quarter involve a car running off the road.
“In many of these crashes a fatality or serious injury can be prevented with simple road infrastructure upgrades.
“We’ve committed to investing in things like more signage on dangerous curves, wider shoulders and wide centre lines, passing lanes, ‘rumble’ road edge line markings and flexible barriers in the median or on the side of the road,” Bernard said.
Roads and Maritime and the Centre for Road Safety are working together to deliver these type of improvements on regional roads.
Driving home the message
As well as making roads safer, we’re educating regional drivers about road safety risks, impacts and behaviours through the Saving Country Lives on Country Roads campaign.
According to Nicole Douglas who helped develop the campaign, one of the most disturbing things is that country drivers often don’t even realise they’re at risk.
"In fact, 73% of fatal crashes on country roads involve locals and more often than not, they’re driving in their local area on familiar roads.
“People living in country areas consider themselves good drivers who know the roads so they assume it must be city people or tourists who have crashes in the country.
Saving Country Lives on Country Roads aims to dispel these myths and highlight just how important everyday decisions are when it comes to road safety,” Nicole said.
Central to the campaign are the Yeah…BUT and Yeah…NAH radio, TV, social media and print ads, which are supported by a comprehensive PR program, local events, and video content of local people and first responders telling their heartbreaking true stories of road trauma.
The campaign also links in with the Knock-On Effect, our road safety partnership with the National Rugby League, NSW Rugby League and Country Rugby League, which highlights the devastating impact a death on the road can have on entire country communities.
Supporting young drivers
An important piece of the regional road safety puzzle is supporting vulnerable and at-risk drivers.
That’s the thinking behind an award-winning Roads and Maritime, TAFE and Centre for Road Safety program which educates and supports regional trade apprentices.
Kathleen Mann from Roads and Maritime said the program started in 2016 in Western NSW with 600 apprentices and is now being rolled out to tens of thousands of young drivers at TAFE Institutes across the State.
“The program is based around interactive workshops that provide practical advice on managing speed, fatigue, distraction, alcohol and drugs and animals on country roads.
“It also reaches out to employers and parents and encourages them to make safer choices around vehicle types, travel routes, travel times and rest options for apprentices in their care,” Kathleen said.
Saying Yeah…NAH to risky behaviour
Around 5,000 Transport cluster staff live and work in regional areas and even those of us based in the city are likely to have friends or family in regional NSW.
That’s thousands of people who can have a positive effect on regional road safety.
All it takes is being aware and saying Yeah….NAH to risky behaviours like going those few kilometres over the speed limit, not wearing a seatbelt, driving when you’re tired, or not having a Plan B to get home safely when out for drinks.
We also owe it to our mates, our families and our communities to remind them that it’s these everyday decisions that do matter and can be the difference between life and death.