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Open speeds on Northern Territory roads: not so fast

Road safety should remain a public health priority not a political issue

Annual road deaths in Australia have decreased from 7.9 to 5.2 per 100 000 population in the period from 2004 to 2013 (Box).1 In contrast to the national figures, the Northern Territory has recorded a mean of 21.8 deaths per 100 000 over the same period.

There are many possible factors contributing to this large discrepancy. Among NT road users, alcohol usage is high and seatbelt usage is low.2 Additionally, NT roads are almost invariably single lane and unseparated, many are unsealed, they are subject to the extremes of weather and are also exposed to wandering livestock and wildlife. Consequently, NT roads have attracted the lowest of Australian Road Assessment Program safety ratings, with over half having one and two stars out of five.3 The NT is unique in many ways and these differences threaten the survival of road accident victims. Road traffic is light and, as a consequence of this, victims may not be found for many hours after an accident. Hospitals and retrieval assets are sparse, resulting in prehospital times of many hours. The “golden hour” of trauma — that window immediately after injury when medical intervention can be life-saving — seldom exists for Territorians in remote areas.