Early last year, I woke one morning to see police and SES vehicles on the road a couple of hundred metres from my house.
A truck had crashed after running off the quiet country road I live on, about half way between Geelong and Ballarat.
After close to a decade working at the TAC, I am no stranger to the devastating and wide-reaching impacts of road accidents, but to learn that the driver of the truck had died in that accident hit very close to home.
Unfortunately, for those of us who live in country Victoria, this is an all too common story. A total of 155 people died on country Victorian roads last year; 109 in what we call run-off road crashes. That is, when a vehicle leaves its lane, veering right into oncoming traffic, or left into trees or poles on the roadside. Here in Barwon South West, 20 of the 25 lives lost on the road were due to run-off road crashes.
Many of these people were not speeding, they had not been drinking or on drugs, they were local people who knew the roads and were obeying the rules. They have simply made a mistake.
That’s why the TAC, alongside VicRoads, Victoria Police and other government agencies, is investing in building a safer road network – a network that forgives our mistakes.
Close to 2000km of these barriers are being rolled out across the state, both on the main roads such as the Princes Highway, which carry the most traffic, but also on smaller roads where the data shows the most accidents are happening. These barriers have been installed on Victorian roads since the 1990s and are proven to be the most effective way to reduce the impacts of the run-off road crashes so common in country Victoria, reducing the fatalities and serious injuries sustained from these crashes by up to 90 per cent.
For decades, Victoria has been a global leader in road safety because of a bi-partisan approach and broad community support for the things that make a difference. Mandatory seat belts, breath-testing and speed cameras were not popular with everyone but we have accepted them as a society because they save lives.
The roll-out of wire rope barriers has similarly been the subject of much discussion in communities across Victoria, including some valid concerns that some emergency services volunteers have raised.
We are listening closely to these concerns and I know my colleagues at VicRoads are working closely with the SES, CFA and the broader community to make sure that the reason for the barrier roll out is understood by local communities.
What we have also heard from those that attend road accidents is that these barriers are preventing them from being called out at all, or at least when they arrive on the scene, they are attending to a minor injury as opposed to a fatality. With more than 1700 hits on flexible safety barriers across Victoria recorded in 2017, there are a lot of people who walked away from accidents last year, avoiding tragic outcomes.
At the TAC, our vision is a future free of death and serious injuries on our roads. That is a vision a lot of people doubt can ever happen, but it is something the leading road safety experts in the world argue strongly can be achieved in the coming decades – if we invest in the right areas such as safer road infrastructure.
For the young man who died on my road and the 258 other people who lost their lives on Victorian roads in 2017, I believe we owe them nothing less.