rural road at sunset

It’s time to make headway on rural road safety

Australia is home to a vast network of rural roads that stretch as far as the eye can see. Yet, as essential as these roads are for driving our economy forward, they are the final resting place for far too many Australian motorists. 

Rural roads account for 65% of the Australian national road toll, highlighting the need for major attention to rural road safety.

In Australia, there is a significant difference between rural and urban roads in terms of fatalities. According to Peiris, Berecki-Gisolf, Chen and Fildes (2020), 30% of Australasia’s population resides in regional and remote areas across Australia. Of the population that resides in the regional and remote areas, they experience a road trauma fatality rate five times that of our urban population. 

For those living in urban areas, the fatality rate as of 2019 was 2.6% per 100,00 population. In comparison, regional and remote fatalities stood at 12.2% per 100,000 population.

Historically, there has been only a slight improvement in rural road safety. Between 1999 and 2003, there were a total of 4,465 fatal crashes. To put that into context, that’s 17 fatal crashes per week in rural and remote areas across Australia (Austroads, 2006). In comparison, between 2016 and 2019, 3,739 fatal crashes occurred on rural roads which works out to be 14 fatal crashes every week (Peiris, Berecki-Gisolf, Chen & Fildes, 2020).

These staggering results demonstrate that in 16 years, as a nation, we’ve only achieved a reduction of 3 fatalities per week on our rural roads. So, what’s contributing to the unacceptable number of fatalities?

 

Factors contributing to the dangers on rural roads 

Failure to adhere to the speed limit on rural roads is just one of many factors contributing to the danger on our roads. There are also several behavioural, environmental and vehicle factors that largely contribute to our road safety.

 

Environmental

Some of the most prominent environmental factors include:

  • The design of rural roads
  • The prevalence of roadside developments (trees, embankments, etc.)
  • Physical conditions of the roads 
  • Inconsistent or inappropriate speed limits

 

Vehicle

Some of the most prominent environmental factors include:

  • Age of vehicles
  • Vehicles that do not comply with current safety standards
  • Improperly maintained vehicles (that are the fault of the driver)

Of all vehicles, rigid trucks and articulated vehicles, and motorcycles are involved in most fatal crashes on our rural roads.

That’s not to say that truck drivers are to blame. In fact, one in five Australian road fatalities involves a truck, but the truck driver is usually not at fault.

Motorcyclists are also far more susceptible to fatal crashes because of the speed limits on rural roads and the vulnerable nature of the transport mode.

 

Human

Some of the most prominent human risk factors include:

  • Speeding
  • Driving under the influence
  • Fatigue
  • Failure to wear seatbelts/helmets
  • Error in judgement (particularly driving on unfamiliar roads)

One of the major crash contributing factors on rural roads is fatigue. With rest stops few and far between on long stretches of roads, the likelihood of fatigue onset is heightened. In the event of a severe crash or fatality that is not explained by any other factor, fatigue is more often than not the culprit.

 

How to stay safe on rural roads

A reduction in severe injuries and fatalities sustained on Australian roads requires a holistic approach that covers every possible contributing factor.

 

Education

When it comes to improving rural road safety, education is paramount. By educating drivers of the risk of dangerous driving, and altering the attitudes attached to non-compliance, we can significantly reduce the number of risky drivers on Australian roads. 

 

Enforcement

Creating attitudinal change requires enforcement to hold our communities accountable for the greater good. There is a need for ongoing police enforcement to impose safety on urban as well as rural roads.

 

Technology

With human error being the biggest cause of collisions, advances in technology hold the key in creating sustainable change. 

With industry-leading driver safety monitoring systems that enable fleet operators to identify and correct unsafe behavioural patterns, DriveRisk’s road safety solutions are making a significantly positive impact on driver safety in Australia.

 

Rural road safety month 

Rural road safety month begins on 1st August 2021 and aims to spread national awareness about rural road safety. As mentioned, little improvement has been made in terms of reducing severe and fatal collisions, and the more awareness we can spread about the national road safety problem, the better the outcome for all Australians.

By taking the Australian Road Safety Foundation pledge to drive safely, you promise to yourself and every other Australian motorists that you will:

  • Always be fit to drive
  • Scan the road ahead
  • Know your limits and plan your trip
  • Stay sharp and take regular breaks
  • Not drive through flooded waters
  • Be alert for wildlife and livestock
  • Drive to suit the conditions

Take the pledge today, and let’s all make a difference in rural road safety.

 

Sources:

* Austroads. Guide to Road Safety Part 5. Road Safety for Rural and Remote Areas (2006)

* Peiris S, Berecki-Gisolf J, Chen B, Fildes B. Road Trauma in Regional and Remote Australia and New Zealand in Preparedness for ADAS Technologies and Autonomous Vehicles. Sustainability (2020) 

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