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Even low-level speeding can be fatal

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Motorists have been urged to resist the temptation to drive at just over the speed limit or to try to ‘push through’ fatigue as the nation’s roads fill up with holidaying families traveling to Christmas gatherings and summer breaks.

AMA President Associate Professor Brian Owler, who has been the face of the New South Wales’ long-running ‘Don’t rush’ road safety campaign, said drivers needed to take particular care when travelling during the holiday season.

A/Professor Owler said that although there had been a remarkable decline in fatal road accidents in the last decade – down 25 per cent since 2003 – too many people continued to die on the nation’s roads.

“Speed cameras, road improvements, random breath tests, better policing, and strong public education campaigns have done an enormous amount to change driver behaviour and help prevent crashes,” A/Professor Owler said. “However, risky driver behaviours such as alcohol and drug abuse, speeding, driver fatigue, and novice drivers and riders continue to contribute to an unnecessary and avoidable high road toll.”

To the end of November, 1077 had died on the nation’s road this year, barely unchanged from 2013, when 1079 had died to the same point in time.

But official figures show there has been an average annual 3.3 per cent decline in the road toll since the beginning of the decade.

As authorities consider how to drive transport fatalities even lower, a Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics suggested better cars, safer intersections, lower speed limits and more guard rails would all help to make roads safer.

In particular, the Bureau found that the introduction of autonomous emergency braking systems in cars would likely drive the next big advance in cutting the road toll.

“Vehicle safety technology and standards are set to take over from the three main measures that have reduced road trauma so far (seat belts, blood alcohol testing and speed enforcement) to deliver further reductions in the road fatality rate,” it said.

But it will be many years before the technology becomes sufficiently common in the nation’s vehicle fleet to make a noticeable improvement in road safety, and in the meantime A/Professor Owler urged motorists to drive with care.

“The holiday season sees more people on the road on their way to parties, holidays and family get-togethers, so the risk to drivers, riders, passengers and pedestrians is greater than normal,” he said.

A/Professor Owler said that careful planning of trips and safer driving could mean the difference between a family outing and a family tragedy.

“Speeding is still a factor in about one-third of road fatalities in Australia, and more than 4100 people are injured in speed-related incidents each year,” A/Prof Owler said. “Even driving five kilometres an hour over the speed limit doubles the likelihood of a casualty crash. “Because more people tend to drive just over the limit to avoid speed traps, low level speeding results in more crashes than high level speeding.”

The AMA President urged people to be particularly vigilant about driving while fatigued.

He said driver fatigue was one of the top three causes of fatal road accidents, and people need to prepare for and plan their journeys to manage the risk.

“Research shows that fatigue can be as dangerous as other road safety issues, such as drink driving,” he said. “Drivers need to be aware of their tiredness level and plan their trips accordingly, with regular breaks and rests or change of drivers.”

Adrian Rollins