We are continually bombarded with messaging in this country telling us that ‘Every K over is a Killer’, or words to that effect. In other words, speeding on our roads is killing people. Maybe there’s a bit of truth in this but it’s not the whole story by any means.
The problem is that, whilst this, and similar, catch phrases are being thrust upon us, a much bigger issue is doing far more damage in my view. And it’s being deliberately ignored by almost every government in Australia – road worthiness testing, and the lack of it.
Yup, Australia trails most of the developed world in safety standards in a major way. Only the USA is worse at regularly enforcing standards on used cars amongst westernized countries.
The norm across most of the developed world is that every car and light commercial vehicle is tested for applicable road safety and pollution standards at the third anniversary of first registration and then again either annually or biannually. This is regardless of any sale or purchase of a car. In Australia, it is only New South Wales that has a comparable scheme, and that starts when a car is five years old rather than three.
Excluding transfers of state of registration and/or registered keeper, other states have no regular system for testing cars and light commercials. Why? I assume politics lies behind this, and a fear of alienating some voters. And yet, there is nothing more dangerous than a car running, even under the speed limit, with bald tyres, sticking shock absorbers, knackered wiper blades and half its lighting broken. And then it rains…
In the country of my birth, Ireland, they were late arrivals to the party. Until 2000 there was no vehicle testing taking place. This was because the government was scared of losing votes, particularly in rural areas. However, when the European Union suggested that the Irish needed to put a system in place, it happened relatively quickly (starting with older vehicles and gradually working back to cover everything over three years old) and the population accepted it and saw the upside.
The regular testing of cars over the age of three years can and will save lives on Australian roads.
We have a death rate here of 4.5 per 100,000 people. That’s a long way from the worst, of course, but it’s approximately 60 per cent higher than the UK or Ireland. Clearly the UK, in particular, is far more crowded than Australia. Available data shows that the density of vehicles per kilometre of road in the UK is about four times greater than here. So, their safety record is surely something that we should be aspiring to at least match. If we did match that fatality rate, then we’d be saving around 450 lives per year.
Of course, there are other factors at work here in the comparison between the UK and Australia. But one thing that isn’t the point of difference is speed limits and speed limit enforcement. The UK enforces limits for sure, but in nowhere near such a draconian way as Australian states.
Driver education is certainly a part of the puzzle, and that’s something for another column as we don’t do a good enough job here. But the biggest stand out point of difference is the road worthiness testing regime. This helps keep the general condition of the vehicle fleet at a reasonable level and that feeds directly into the ability of each driver to actively avoid an accident rather than purely relying on passive safety features.
Rather than each state and territory coming up with its own semi unique plan for an enhanced system of road worthiness testing, the federal government should agree with them all on a standardized test as soon as possible (it’s not hard) and then start a roll out plan nationwide. The average age of cars and light vehicles in Australia is about 10 years. So, roll out a compulsory annual test for all relevant vehicles that are 10 years old or more in the first wave. Then lower that age annually until we get to three years old.
Every competent car service shop, independent as well as franchised, should be able to apply for a licence to perform the testing so as to ensure a good spread of availability for end users across the country. Within a decade, Australia could make the single biggest step possible towards reducing the fatality rate on our roads. It’s highly achievable and, even without considering the huge potential for saving emotional trauma for so many families, the savings in financial terms would be huge.
It’s time for politics to be parked and common sense to lead the way.