Did you know that more Australians have died in car crashes than in WW I, WW II, and the Vietnam War combined? Shocking, isn’t it? It’s true. You’d agree that this is an appalling reality, and it ought to change.
Here’s the thing. Accidents are NOT inevitable, although they are unintentional and often unexpected, so we shouldn’t accept accidents as a way of life. Thankfully, the governments of Australia have risen to the challenge and have set their gazes towards achieving this lofty "accident-free roads" goal in Vision Zero 2050.
Vision Zero: To achieve zero deaths and serious injury accidents by 2050
The Australian governments—federal, state, and territorial— have committed to eliminate fatal and severe injury road accidents in Australia by 2050. They're calling this the Vision Zero, and the National Road Safety Strategy represents their commitment to this lofty goal. This organisation is responsible for setting out nationally agreed objectives and targets towards improving road safety in Australia.
The public consultation period for the 2021-30 strategy is closed, and the final strategy is expected to be released later in 2021. To read the draft for the action plan of 2021-2030, you may click here.
Vision zero is, no doubt, an audacious goal. But it’s a worthwhile one: we should be doing all we can to help safeguard human life. Speaking of saving lives, we need to realise that bringing accidents to zero levels is our combined responsibility. The rest of this post will inform you of your role in preventing road accidents in Australia.
What is the biggest killer on Australian roads?
For many years, accidents on Aussie roads were attributed to four dangerous driving habits tagged 'The Fatal Four.' Recently, however, distractions (caused usually by mobile phones) joined the list, and so the 'The Fatal Four' turned 'The Fatal Five.' The unsettling fact is that these causes are not beyond human control. Conversely, it's also good news because it means we can deal with this menace.
The so-called Fatal Five unsafe driving habits are speeding, failing to wear seat belts, driving under the influence, fatigue, and distractions.
How can you help prevent road accidents and deaths?
As a road user in Australia, let’s see how you can help mitigate deaths due to road accidents.
1. Drive within the recommended speed limits
According to the NSW government, driving speeds higher than the legal speed limit caused 41% of fatalities between 2015 and 2019. For perspective, that’s more than a third of the total accidents, which means that in every 3 road accidents, one is caused by speeding! This makes speeding the number one cause of road accidents in Australia.
Here’s something to keep in mind: Scientists have established that the risk of being in a fatal accident doubles for every 5km/hr you drive over 60km/hr.
The thrill of gliding through the wind is certainly tempting. But since science has been helpful enough to define safe speed limits for us, why don't you do the world a favour and stay within the recommended limits? Your life and the lives of many other road users depend on your cooperation. Remember to go even slower when navigating bends, when it's dark, or weather conditions are poor.
2. Pull to the side and take a rest when you notice fatigue or drowsiness
If you miss sleep habitually, chances are you will have microsleep episodes where you doze or drift into inattention for 4-5 seconds. If this happens while you're driving at highway speed and you crash, experts say your car could travel the length of a football field before stopping.
Fatigue accounts for 19% of serious road crashes, according to the NSW government. So the next time you’re feeling tired or sleepy, get some rest or drink caffeinated beverages. Stop for a few minutes to get some rest or stretch outside, if on a long trip. The importance of rest and sleep is incredibly underrated. A 20-minute nap can help relieve fatigue and eventually save a life or two.
3. Don’t drink or take drugs when you’re going to drive afterwards
Driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs is another major cause of death on Australian roads, despite various public campaigns and awareness programs and stern policing.
Alcohol and drugs tamper with your ability to respond accurately to activities around you by impairing muscle control, reflexes, coordination, mood, impulsiveness, and increasing your urge to engage in reckless acts. For instance, you could choose to recreate moments from the Fast and Furious Hollywood blockbuster.
Alcohol and drugs also affect eye sight by changing the perception of depth (the reason many drunks end up in gutters), causing tunnel vision (not seeing out of the corner of one's eye), and many other effects.
Nowadays, ride-hailing services are available to ease movement and transporting, so why should you risk landing yourself (or someone else) in a hospital or, even worse, a coffin?
4. Wear your seatbelt and require all passengers to wear theirs.
Refusal to wear seatbelts doesn't cause accidents per se, but it reduces the survival rate of car accident victims. It's estimated that a person is about 8.3 times more likely to sustain a fatal injury in a car accident if he or she isn't wearing a seatbelt.
Wearing your seat belt is one of the simplest and safest choices you can make. If accident victims wore their seatbelts, 14% of total deaths or serious injuries could have been avoided between 2015 and 2019, according to the NSW government. So buckle up, mate, and make sure your knucklehead friend does so too.
5. Don’t use a phone or other distractions while driving.
The biggest distraction for drivers today is their mobile phones. The rates of distraction-related car accidents have doubled over the last decade, no thanks to mobile phone usage. Apart from mobile phones, other common distractions arise from interruptions from unstrapped children, loose pets, eating, singing, or dancing while driving. To prevent distraction-related accidents, ensure that you avoid engaging in anything that shifts your attention from the road.
Don't take your eyes off the road for any reason unless your car is parked correctly. More so, make sure to strap in children or pets properly if there's any on board.
In addition to the suggestions already made, ensure you don't hit the road with a defective or road-unworthy car. It goes without saying that you should observe simple road courtesy, especially on busy streets. The AAMI index revealed that failure to give way was the most common reason for crashes at The Great Eastern Highway, aka Perth’s most notorious crash site.
And there you have it! Now you know just what to do to help reduce road deaths in Australia. If you watch the news and the headlines read “Australia records zero road fatalities in 2022 or 2031 or whenever," you’ll know you contributed to that success.
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By Damilare Olasinde