It’s National Road Safety Week in Australia, which is a perfect time to highlight areas where we are doing well and areas where we need to improve, including combating the use of drugs and, to a lesser extent, alcohol in road users.
According to the Safer Australian Roads and Highways website, in 2017 over 1200 people were killed on Australian roads, with another 35,000 serious injured. To put this into perspective, traffic accidents are the biggest killer of Australian kids under 15 and the second biggest killer of those aged between 15 and 24.
On a positive front, over the last few decades we’ve reduced the Australian road toll significantly. In 1970, the road toll was 3798 or around 26 deaths per 100,000 population. In 2014, the lowest year on record, we had 1150 fatalities or 4.91 deaths per 100,000 population.
However, it’s important to point out that every road fatality, and in fact every road accident, is preventable. So while we should be thankful for and highlight the drop in road deaths, we must continue to strive for zero fatalities.
Drugs and alcohol two of the major factors
How can we keep continue to lower the number of road fatalities? Drugs and alcohol are two major factors of road deaths in Australia, so let’s look at these individually:
- Drugs are particularly concerning, as statistics are generally on the rise. For example, in 2016, the proportion of Australia road deaths involving drivers or motorcycle riders who were drug-impaired increased by 60% compared with 2012 figures. In some states and territories, drug-induced drivers are responsible for a staggering 30% of fatalities. Roadside drug testing figures further highlight the issue, with the number of positives from drugs as a percentage of tests conducted far exceeding the number of positives from alcohol.
- There is good news on alcohol and its involvement in fatal road accidents, which have trended down over the last several years and decades. In 1987, for example, there were nearly 130 fatalities where the road user had a blood alcohol level over the legal limit; recent years the number has dropped to between 20 and 40. However, alcohol is still a major factor in many road accidents and in some states is as high as 1 in 5 (i.e. 20% of drivers killed had a BAL over 0.05). In fact, in many regional areas alcohol is a factor in 25% of fatal accidents.
In a message from the Prime Minister to support National Road Safety Week, The Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP wrote: “All Australians have the right to be safe on our roads, and every driver has a duty of care towards others. So please, let’s all do our part in getting everyone home happy and safe.”