Road safety is often in the news, usually in the form of a tragic crash and an emotional discussion of the individual driver behaviours that caused it. But what is being done at a broader cultural level to reduce risky driving? At a September 2020 webinar held by the Australasian College of Road Safety, the head of the National Office of Road Safety, Gabby O’Neill, outlined the Australian national road safety strategy for the next decade.
The ambitious goal of Vision Zero is to eliminate harm on Australian roads by 2050, or within two generations, through the introduction of a social model into the Safe Systems approach of the previous 2011-2020 strategy. The social model refers to a layered approach whereby not only individual behaviour but cultural norms are modified through the buy-in of community groups and workplaces, for example, in the form of safe driving policies and zero tolerance to risky driving from members/employees.
The 2021-2030 plan has three key themes: Safe Roads, Safe Vehicles and Safe Road Use, with speed and speed management considered within each. The Safe Systems approach continues in that if one component fails the others are designed to compensate, while the social model approach entails reaching into previously untapped sections of society to leverage better road safety outcomes.
O’Neill pointed out that the strategy doesn’t deal directly with drivers who engage in intentional disregard for the law; it is aimed at the bulk of drivers who have less “extreme” attitudes towards driving behaviour. Alongside strong law enforcement the strategy calls for a general cultural discouragement of high-risk driving by the people around a driver, i.e. outside of traditional transport agencies.
It is hoped that through multiple non-traditional touchpoints, road safety messages will gain greater traction in the population at large. The plan also identifies the need for road safety education to take place across the entire school career of young people, in order to cultivate generational change in driver attitudes and norms, which then fit logically with community touchpoints encountered in a variety of social contexts throughout the lifespan.
Finally, the webinar turned to a discussion of the importance of achieving nationally consistent crash data systems, particularly around serious injury data. While a data linkage pilot program conducted by the National Office of Road Safety has met with some success, there remains a lack of consensus around terminology and measures between the states, which makes it difficult to see the national picture clearly. Described as a “work in progress for the past 30 years”, the drive to standardise Australian crash data is likely to continue for some time into the future.
Overall then, the national strategy for the next ten years takes a preventative approach, involving an all-of-government response grounded in positive community engagement and education. While this is congruent with best-practice models in road trauma prevention, an opportunity may have been lost to position rehabilitative education in the national framework, instead favouring stronger law enforcement to combat “extreme” individuals.
We would argue that, alongside instigating positive cultural change, a more effective course of action would involve not only using educational methods to prevent risky driving behaviour from emerging in the first place, but then using a combination of law enforcement to detect and intensive education to manage risky behaviour when it does arise.
There is also a case to be made for directing educational efforts towards particularly high-risk groups, such as transport professionals, people who drive a lot for work and drivers who have recently arrived in Australia but are not yet familiar with the roads. Through a combination of prevention and cure, ongoing generational and cultural change, and targeted education for high-risk groups, the prospect of a dramatically reduced road toll by 2050 is a very good one.
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