Drivers are disproportionately dying on regional roads in Victoria and research out of Warrnambool's university campus may turn the tide on this devastating trend.
Last year 60 per cent of road fatalities occurred on rural and regional roads.
Of those, 25 per cent occurred in western Victoria, costing the local economy an estimated $234.3 million.
Road Safety Promotion Australia (RoSPA) is launching a number of trials in partnership with Deakin Warrnambool to develop road safety strategies to be implemented across the state.
The not-for-profit was established in 2019 after the state recorded a tragic year in road fatalities.
Deakin Warrnambool director Alistair McCosh says he comes at the issue first as a father.
"I'm wearing two hats - one as a regional and rural resident who has children at the vulnerable age where the statistics say they are significantly more likely to be in a road accident compared to someone outside that demographic," he said.
"Then I'm wearing my Deakin hat, recognising this is something our freelancing hub could research and help address the disparity that we are seeing.
"I think it's for a number of reasons; regional drivers are traveling significantly further distances, there are hazards such as wildlife and fatigue, and the conditions of the road are not the same as they have in inner metropolitan locations."
The research found Western Victorian males aged between 17 to 25 years were more likely to be engaged in road risk behaviours such as drink driving, speeding, fatigue, driving while distracted or using older cars, compared with other age groups.
Young drivers are more prone to road accidents because they lack experience in driving.
"We've got to look at the attitudes of young people in terms of driving and the risk-taking aspect to young people's behaviour," Mr McCosh said.
"The thing that really stood out to me was the economic cost to the community, it's huge.
"It's not only the social and emotional impact on families, friends and communities, but the economic impact is huge.
"If we can work collaboratively with the community in bringing those statistics down there's a benefit all round.
"We're also not putting pressure on our emergency departments when we don't need to.
"We're only just starting in terms of what RoSPA can achieve. This is the beginning of a campaign raising awareness of the impact of road trauma.
"We have to do something about it because it is, when you look at data and the statistics and costs, it's not going away."
The goal is to reinforce in young drivers and passengers behaviour, risk taking and hazard perception situations known to cause loss of life and injuries, said RoSPA board member Donald Gibb.
Mr Gibb, born in Port Fairy, is a long-time road safety advocate instrumental in getting seatbelts and the .05 laws in Victoria in the 1970s.
"We want to make western Victoria the model for the whole of Victoria and other regional areas around Australia," he said.
"This can be a pilot and show people at a community level things can change.
"Data shows regional and rural drivers and passengers are exposed to many more high-speed accidents than what occur in metropolitan streets.
"Regional accidents tend to be accidents in 100km/h zones and it's those trauma accidents that are severe and create a lot more issues.
"They also include a lot more high speed trucks.
"We've got to alert rural drivers their exposure is incredibly high compared to the average person driving around a provincial city or metropolitan area."
He said education needed to be from the ground up, not just when young people went for their licence.
"The bottom line is you've got to start talking about it at the kinder and pre-school level highlighting the risk and hazards they are going to be confronted with.
"It's a very emotional topic for me and I'm very excited about the project."
According to the Transport Accident Commission, fatalities in south-west local government areas over the past 12 months were: two in Warrnambool, three in Colac-Otway Shire, three in Corangamite Shire and two in Glenelg Shire.
In 2019-2020 there were 36 claims involving hospitalisation in Warrnambool, 79 in Colac-Otway Shire, 39 in Corangamite Shire, 27 in Glenelg Shire, 46 in Moyne Shire and 39 in Southern Grampians Shire.
54 per cent of Western Victorian drivers own vehicles older than 10 years.
Individuals aged 17 to 25 were involved in 24 per cent of road accidents in Western Victoria, representing the highest number in any one age group.
In 2020, 126 people died on rural and regional Victorian roads.
Have you signed up to The Standard's daily newsletter and breaking news emails? You can register below and make sure you are up to date with everything that's happening in the south-west.