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Roads or Risk-Taking? Rural Road Safety in September

September is Rural Road Safety Month and we are looking forward to shedding some light on rural road safety once again.

To start off with, two-thirds of Australia’s annual road fatalities happen on rural and regional roads but only one-third of Australians live in these areas. This statistic has not changed much over the past decade implying that the situation is not exactly improving.

So why are the statistics so high and why haven’t they changed?

A 2016 Parliament Report highlighted poor infrastructure in rural and regional areas, and this is probably acknowledged by drivers who have experience driving outside major cities. However, apart from the infrastructure, there are numerous factors that increase the risk of driving on rural roads.

Perhaps not entirely attributable to human fault, the high speed limits on rural and regional roads are unforgiving. It is easy to drive with the thought that 5km/h over the speed limit won’t hurt. Yet unfortunately, it’s also easy for that speed to play a critical role in an accident, particularly in 100km/h+ zones.

Wildlife, broken roads, potholes and poorer access to health services, due to being further away from medical help, all increase the danger of driving on rural roads.

But the biggest factors in fatalities on rural roads relate to human error – speed, distraction, intoxicated driving, not wearing a seatbelt or helmet and fatigue contribute to over 90% of fatal crashes.

With fewer speed detection cameras, mobile phone detection cameras and police patrolling the roads, drivers may break rules with the belief that they will not be caught. Furthermore, with fewer cars on country roads, many metropolitan drivers also falsely believe that driving on rural roads is safer. This misconception plays a big role in accidents that happen outside major cities.

With local residents involved in around 70% of accidents on rural and regional roads, the NSW Government says the fault lies in attitudes. Complacency, over-confidence and lower perception of risk when driving on familiar roads are major factors leading to local residents getting into accidents.

This is not surprising when we see that local residents, young male drivers and truck drivers are among the most at-risk of being involved in crashes on country roads.

Australians living outside metropolitan areas are also less inclined to call ambulances with research showing that nearly 6 out of 10 rural residents would deal with emergency situations on their own or with the help of bystanders. This could be a result of many reasons – a big one being a lack of access to medical facilities and help outside major cities.

While the roads are admittedly an issue, it is evident that by adhering to the law and taking less risks when driving in rural and regional areas, the road toll will drop.

Rural road safety is a serious issue and cannot be brushed off by saying that it’s just the roads – the way we drive on those roads is what really decides the matter.

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