Battle to make WA roads safer must intensify

By Steve Martin, Member for the Agricultural Region
January 18 2022 - 4:00am
Regional WA is home to 9pc of our State's roads and two-thirds of the network is unsealed.

WESTERN Australia has one of the worst road safety records in the country - and the outcomes on regional roads are nearly twice as bad as metropolitan Perth.

With 2021 proving to be the worst year on the State's roads since 2016, the battle to make WA regional roads safer must intensify.

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A devastatingly high number of people continue to be killed and seriously injured every day on WA roads.

Regional Western Australians make up about 20 per cent of the State's population, yet deaths on regional roads accounted for 60pc of the road toll in 2021.

This year is looking even worse, with eight of the nine road fatalities that had occurred up until January 10 taking place on regional roads.

The cost of the tragic loss of human life and serious injury to people is estimated at $2.4 billion - and that doesn't include the immeasurable human cost for grieving families and friends, distraught communities and the toll on our first responders.

At every level road trauma is a scourge in our community.

WA has a poor safety record - we rank sixth out of eight Australian jurisdictions.

If WA had the same 2019 road trauma rates as Victoria, 57 fewer people would have died on our roads.

In international comparisons, we fare even worse.

If we had the same 2019 road trauma rates as Norway, 111 fewer people would have died.

According to data collected by the Road Safety Commission between 2016 and 2020, 537 people died in reported crashes and 2928 people were seriously injured on regional roads.

That amounts to 108 people killed or seriously injured per 100,000 population.

Almost twice the rate as in the metropolitan area.

One of the areas of concern is the enormous task of maintaining and upgrading WA's substantial road network of more than 185,000 kilometres.

Regional WA is home to 9pc of our State's roads and two-thirds of the network is unsealed.

Local, State and Federal governments need to keep up with the ever-increasing maintenance and construction effort required on WA's regional roads.

We must ensure the roads are well maintained and safe for use.

With the RAC estimating WA's road maintenance backlog totals about $845 million, governments need to commit ongoing funds to the task.

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Safer roads will save lives.

Regional drivers do face extra risks - they have to contend with narrow roads, gravel, long hours at the wheel, trees on roadsides, animals and unlit roads at night.

However, some driver behaviour in regional WA still needs to be looked at and, frankly, we don't compare well to drivers involved in accidents on metropolitan roads.

In regional crashes where someone was killed or seriously injured, seatbelts were not worn by 11pc of vehicle occupants.

Speed was suspected to be a factor in 26pc of accidents.

However, in metropolitan accidents that resulted in someone being killed or seriously injured, seatbelts were not worn by just 3pc of vehicle occupants.

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Speed was suspected to be a factor in 13pc of accidents.

Most of the fatal and serious crashes that occur in regional areas involve only one vehicle which has either run off the road and/or collided with an object or rolled over.

These raw statistics don't tell the tragic story of the phone call or knock on the door in the middle of the night telling a family that a loved one has been involved in a bad accident.

They don't detail the impact of the trauma police and ambulance officers face as part of their daily work lives.

Anyone who has been on regional roads recently will know that they are busier than ever, the freight task is greater than ever, and more caravans are on the move.

As regional drivers we all need to take responsibility for our behaviour on the roads.

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Wear a seatbelt, drive to the conditions, don't speed, take a break before you get fatigued and leave your mobile phone alone.

Your life depends on it.

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