The first half of 2019 has been one of the worst on record for road deaths in Australia, especially in rural areas. Fatalities on rural and regional roads account for 65% of the overall road toll. So, what can be done to help prevent further carnage on our roads? There are suggestions that lowering the speed limits across the board may help, but is this the case? Shine Lawyers’ Peter Gibson shares his thoughts on whether a speed limit reduction is the answer to making our rural roads safer.
Each year the government and road groups spend a lot of time and money looking at how the road fatality toll can be lowered. When we have a terrible year on our roads we all want to know what we can do quickly to prevent any more fatalities. One suggestion has been to reduce the speed limit on rural roads from 100km/hour to 80km/hour.
Will reducing the speed limit work?
Reducing the speed limits on rural and regional roads to decrease the number of deaths may be helpful, but it really isn’t the full answer. It’s true that driving at high speed, for example at 100 km/hr, on a rural or regional road is usually a factor that contributes to fatality, but unfortunately it is just one of many. There are other factors that need to be considered; such as driver inattention/lack of concentration, fatigue, intoxication, distractions, road hazards and the quality of the road itself. Addressing just one of the key factors will not solve the problem entirely, and there needs to be more wholistic solutions.
In my experience of the cases I have been involved with, the number of deaths on regional roads are higher because the roads are simply not as safe as they are in metropolitan areas. The main reason that rural and regional roads aren’t maintained to the same standards as the roads in major cities is most likely due to funding. The sheer size of the country and our road network also plays a role, which increases the difficulty of maintaining and repairing the roads to the same standard as in urban areas.
The design of rural roads and intersections is another factor of rural road safety. Some rural and regional roads were constructed many years ago and they can often be outside of current guidelines. In these cases, they haven’t been upgraded to meet modern safety standards and will continue to put motorists at risk until they are.
Another important fact to consider is that driving conditions are significantly different to those of driving in a metropolitan area. Motorists who are inexperienced in driving on rural and regional roads are not always prepared for the additional challenges that can be presented. The roads may be narrower or not separated for traffic travelling in opposite directions at high speeds. There may be limited or no shoulders, pot holes and corrugations that all present different challenges. Lack of street lights and other hazards of driving at night, such as wildlife, can also present dangerous conditions for inexperienced rural drivers.
So what can be done?
A program or campaign to educate drivers on the different risks that rural and regional roads pose could be used to help improve the road fatality toll. Another measure could be the improvement of hazard warnings, through upgrading signage or by providing warnings via technology on satellite navigation or mobile maps.
While speed is certainly a factor in road fatalities, reducing the limit on rural roads by 20km/hr will not be the ‘silver bullet’ answer. We need a wider approach to include repairing and maintaining our rural roads, upgrading road design and hazard warnings, as well and as educating drivers on the challenges of rural driving. Perhaps only then will we see a much-needed decrease in road trauma and fatalities.
Written by Peter Gibson. Last modified: October 16, 2019.