DEATHS on south-west roads nearly doubled last year compared with 2012, despite the state road toll dropping to its lowest figure in more than six decades.
Statistics released by the Transport Accident Commission (TAC) revealed 12 people died in the region during 2013, compared with only seven people the previous year.
Eight deaths occurred following two-car collisions, while three fatalities were due to single-vehicle crashes. The remaining fatality occurred in Allansford when a young man’s car collided with a morning freight train in March.
On the other hand, Victoria’s annual road toll dropped by 14 per cent last year, with metropolitan road deaths falling more dramatically than the regional tally.
Berrybank, located along the Hamilton Highway between Lismore and Cressy, proved a Western District hot spot for fatalities, with four people killed in two separate accidents last year.
Drivers and passengers were also killed in Warrnambool, Mortlake, Port Fairy, Noorat, Brucknell and Cobrico during the calendar year.
The Southern Grampians and Glenelg shires remained fatality free during the period.
Acting Sergeant Dean Owen, of Warrnambool highway patrol, said many of the deaths notched up in the south-west during 2013 were due to driver inattention.
He said a number of the region’s families spent Christmas heartbroken due to carelessness behind the wheel.
“That’s the great tragedy — that most of the deaths on the roads around Warrnambool were preventable,” Acting Sergeant Owen said.
“Driver error has been the main contributor to a lot of deaths during the past year.
“Sometimes it’s due to livestock or kangaroos or whatever but that’s rare.
“The big problem remains that drivers aren’t paying attention.
“We’ve had incidents in Warrnambool where the driver was flicking radio stations and was involved in an accident. Eating food behind the wheel is another distraction.”
Statistics released by the TAC yesterday also broke down the road toll by age demographics with an increase in fatalities among drivers in their 70s and a decrease among young drivers aged 18 to 24.
Acting Sergeant Owen said highways running through sparsely populated areas of the south-west were common locations for serious car accidents.
“People driving long distances, like driving to Melbourne, need to take regular breaks,” he said. “Stop for a drink or stretch the legs in a small town on the way there and back because most people can’t properly concentrate for hours on end.”
Acting Premier Peter Ryan said the introduction of the graduated licensing system and investment in highway infrastructure had helped reduce the state’s road toll.
“Most road deaths are not ‘accidents’ as such, but the result of poor choices, including choices to speed, or drive under the influence of alcohol,” Mr Ryan said.