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Hey Canberra drivers – what on earth is wrong with us?

By Jane Speechley 19 December 2016 31

Holiday driving

As we approach Christmas and that long-awaited holiday period, many of us are planning to travel.

The potential terror of entertaining the kids on long road trips aside, this time of year is a bit of a nightmare for our emergency services, for very different reasons.

Sadly, the holiday season can also be a horror period on our roads.

Ten people have died on ACT Roads this year.

That’s about one person each month. Or to put it another way, one entire network of family, friends, workmates and school buddies hit by the loss of their mother or father, husband or wife, son or daughter, friend or lover, teacher, student or colleague, every month.

In 2015, the road toll was 15, our worst in five years.

What strikes me about this issue is, spending a bit of time around cars as I do, I know (as you probably do) that cars are the safest they’ve ever been.

A 5-star ANCAP safety rating is almost a no-brainer when you’re buying a new car.

So where are we going wrong?

Manufacturers talk about both ‘passive’ and active’ safety controls. It’s fascinating.

The passive features are those that protect you when a crash happens – seat belts, air bags, crumple zones, even headrests. They aim to keep the driver and passengers in the vehicle, and protected from the various forces that come into play in a crash situation.

Huge amounts of research and knowledge go into where these passive features are placed, the materials that are use, and how they deploy.

A really exciting area of advancing technology, however, are the active safety features.

Over the past decade or so, we’ve seen the emergence of forward collision warnings, lane departure warnings and electronic stability control, which my policing friend says was the biggest game-changer since automatic braking systems or ABS was introduced.

Your car will literally stop or change direction for you, in order to avoid a collision.

So, with all these incredible features at our fingertips – why are so many of us still dying on the roads?

Canberrans do drive a lot. We have just over 321,000 registered vehicles on the road. Of course, not everyone has a new car with all the latest features, but there are a large number of newer vehicles on the road.

And our roads and traffic conditions are generally pretty good – they rarely pop up as factors in an accident.

Interestingly, as a nation we’re driving less and less. Since 2005, car ownership rates have risen steadily, while the number of kilometres travelled per car has fallen just as steadily.

Does that mean we have more drivers on the road, with less actual driving experience?

Maybe the answer lies in stricter education and training requirements for drivers. Including perhaps the need for ongoing training and testing throughout our driving lives?

Speed kills

Speed remains the biggest factor in most incidents. A few weeks ago, NSW Police couldn’t hide their exasperation when a man was caught doing 231kmph in a 110km zone on the Hume Highway near Gundagai.

Around the same time, ACT Police caught a Forde man driving 70kmph over the limit.

Are we relying upon the safety and comfort of our vehicles too much, expecting too much of these new safety features? Maybe getting a bit too confident, a bit lazy – even reckless?

Across Australian jurisdictions, most road safety strategies rely on a combination of:

  • increasing awareness of safety issues and respectful behaviour on the roads;
  • improving the design, construction and maintenance of road networks;
  • focusing on high-risk road users, such as motorcyclists, bicycle riders, younger and older drivers;
  • improving vehicle safety and safety standards; and
  • when all else fails, enforcing the road rules.

Driving safety

When manufacturers, police and government seem to be doing their best to stop us killing ourselves on the roads, does the buck simply stop with those of us who are holding the wheel?

What do you think? Have you got any brilliant ideas for ACT Policing on how we can reduce the road toll?

What’s Your opinion?


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31 Responses to
Hey Canberra drivers – what on earth is wrong with us?
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Chris Mordd Richards 1:56 am 26 Jan 17

If it was possible to enforce, I would support capping all vehicles (except police etc…) at a max 150Kmh, impossible to make the vehicle go over that. How long before we get to a technology point that something like that could be enforced?

I think it would be interesting to do an FoI request for the number of Failure to Keep Left infringements issued in Canberra, since the city’s founding. I am betting the number will be extremely low, if records are kept in such a way this stat could be attained.

Laurel 6:58 pm 25 Jan 17

Maryann Mussared said :

If decent, offence-free drivers were able to report bad and anti-social behaviour to the police, including road rage, without having to go through the courts, warnings could be issued by email or by the dreaded ‘knock on the door’.

So, are you advocating a city of informants, perhaps overseen by a Ministry for State Security? Something that in another place at another time was known as the Stasi?

Quoting from Wikipedia:

“One of its main tasks was spying on the population, mainly through a vast network of citizens turned informants, and fighting any opposition by overt and covert measures, including hidden psychological destruction of dissidents.”

I’m sure that certain government officials would like nothing better than such an arrangement, but is it really possible that ordinary citizens are already advocating this tipe of thing?

I mean, you advocated a “knock on the door”. We all know what that means.

rossau 1:00 am 31 Dec 16

Maryann Mussared said :

If decent, offence-free drivers were able to report bad and anti-social behaviour to the police, including road rage, without having to go through the courts, warnings could be issued by email or by the dreaded ‘knock on the door’. […]
We need some form of ‘citizens’ arrest’.

Most of our commercial vehicle drivers are extremely good but what do do when they’re not? In the Philippines, every commercial vehicle has emblazoned on its rear, “How’s my driving?” and a number to call. Not surprisingly, the company owners are very keen to hear.

Maryann Mussared 4:14 pm 30 Dec 16

If decent, offence-free drivers were able to report bad and anti-social behaviour to the police, including road rage, without having to go through the courts, warnings could be issued by email or by the dreaded ‘knock on the door’. Today I came close to being wiped out by a semi-trailer turning into the Belconnen markets from a narrow street. The driver was on his mobile and attempting to turn with one hand. We need some form of ‘citizens’ arrest’.

rossau 1:59 pm 30 Dec 16

marshy1982 said :

I’ll just leave this here and hope to nip this in the bud:

http://static3.businessinsider.com/image/5717dbc452bcd025008bde4a-1200-900/traffic-fatalities-cotd.png

Thank you, marshy1982. Looks like an inverse exponential. How long until those move to zero?! [Correct answer: ‘never’.]

Driving to Sydney just pre-Christmas, (initially) all drivers were keeping left and I noticed they were all ACT-plated. Later, those who weren’t were all NSW-plated. Well done, ACT drivers.

I suggest fostering this diligent approach to keeping left, by only moving right when actually overtaking. To move right earlier claims a right-of-way that doesn’t really exist and harasses the driver in front who may also desire to overtake. A ‘first-out, first-past’ attitude is just noxious. Anyone ahead of you has the right to exercise their own overtaking so let them.

I’ve recently formulated the idea that the worst drivers on the highways are likely also using cruise-control. You know, those who claim the overtaking lane from way back –or never leave it– so as to not need to vary speed? Overtake before them and they’ll slow only when up-my-proverbial-a##. These too form those dangerous overtaking queues. Please, keep left!

JC 3:01 pm 23 Dec 16

Mr Gillespie said :

What is a “shockingly high road toll” depends on the ratio of deaths to some arbitrary number, like per 100,000 head of population. Consider the fact that the population of Canberra is increasing and continues to increase, how do you expect the death toll to decrease? And if it’s “double digits”, does that suggest that a total of 10 is a lot more shocking than a total of 9?

Well said. statistics without context mean nothing and can and are abused to the advantage of who ever is using those stats to push their claim.

An example that makes me laugh is the Liebrals using the statistic that Action buses dead run to the tune of 12,420km a day, which hey is about the same as this distance from Canberra to Los Angeles. Sounds a bad figure, until you put context around it by dividing by the number of buses in the fleet, roughly 420 and the figure is 30km per vehicle. Which in a spread out city like Canberra s actually quite a reasonable number, but what was the headline figure again?

Lies, damned lies and statistics hey?

And getting back to the road toll, the other ‘problem’ for the ACT is our small sample size, so of course there will be variations year to year. All it needs is for one bad accident like the Mully Williams 2010 crash and the stats are blown out. Nationally and in large states, such statistic abnormalities like that tend to average out better. Though something like the Kempsey bus crash of 1989 would throw out stats in a larger state too.

wildturkeycanoe 1:43 pm 23 Dec 16

HenryBG said :

Get out there and pull over every single driver every single time they commit any offence, no matter how minor. And don’t just “warn” them, slap a fine on them.
Fail to indicate.
Fail to keep left.
Tailgating.

Today I was caught up with a heap of other cars on the Tuggeranong Pkwy stuck behind a NSW plated HR [Heavy Rigid] delivery truck, with produce addressed to Bunnings. Up the hill from the lights at Kambah, this truck decided to take the right hand lane and do 80km/h right next to the Action bus it just “overtook”. So all the cars were backing up into a peleton behind these two slow vehicles, until the top of the hill when the Action bus veered off into the slip lane. But the truck driver continued his right hand lane antics all the way to the Glenloch Interchange, even when there were no cars next to him. Then just after the 90 sign, he merged into the left lane and then again into the left slip lane to head to Belconnen, again preventing me from getting past. Then as we got into the short dual lanes section before merging with William Hovell, I decided to try going around the left. Guess what. The truck driver pulled to the left lane long before the merging section started, blocking me again from overtaking. BTW, no indicators were used in any of these lane changes either, nor was there a decent gap between them and the cars they were pulling in front of. Talk about a rude, selfish and irresponsible driver. I finally managed to get around before the Bindubi Street traffic lights. 13 kilometers of putting up with this arrogant “professional” driver doing less than the limit in the right lane, I managed to get some payback when I was overtaking some slower cars going down the hill, by overtaking them whilst doing the speed limit. I could tell he [truck driver] was now doing well and truly more than 80km/h by the speed at which he closed the gap behind me. The ensuing tailgating [less than a car length] didn’t make me budge a needle width over the limit and it felt nice to give back just a little compared to what I’d received, without breaking the rules to do it.
So, this fellow deserved fines for the following offences – Not keep left unless overtaking, fail to indicate, fail to leave adequate gap to vehicle ahead and at the end some speeding as well. Where were the police? Didn’t see a single one on the roads, not then and not all week.

devils_advocate 11:42 am 23 Dec 16

HenryBG said :

So why do car manufacturers get to sell vehicles with performance capabilities that cannot even remotely be legally demonstrated anywhere on our public roads?

When building an engine, there are multiple aspects to performance that are considered.
For example, acceleration. A Toyota yaris will (eventually) achieve the highway speed limit, and not much more. Any other car you care to name (commodore) will also do it, but much more quickly. Yes, you can only drive the speed limit, but how fast you get there is another question. Why do you think manufacturers are so fond of quoting their 0-100kph times – it tells you about the legal enjoyment of the vehicle. Of course, the more powerful vehicle also makes for much safer overtaking and cornering traction.

Then there is towing, or hauling the family around. You need a certain amount of engine power to be able to achieve that. Building an engine around a top speed would essentially render it useless for just about any other application.

Now, it is possible to electronically govern the top speed. Japanese cars have an alarm that goes of at 105kph, and are electronically limited to 180kph. But these are so easy to circumvent that they’re next to useless.

And then as already mentioned, there are racetracks.

Crazed_Loner 6:01 pm 22 Dec 16

From my observations (direct and indirect) and experience over many years, I’d put it down to a few factors: 1) the ratbags and chronically irresponsible, including anyone who drives under the influence of drugs; 2) the couldabeen heroes who think, for example, it’s cool to drive at high speed in the middle of the night; 3) inattention, impatience and selfishness; 4) incompetence, whether through fundamental skill deficiency or deterioration through ageing; and, 5) sheer bad luck, such as the motorcyclist who hit a kangaroo on the Cotter Road a few years back. The other big, elephant-in-the-room factor in highway accidents, fatigue, doesn’t figure so much in Canberra.

The first group are a particularly hard nut to crack; you basically have to take their car off them (in which case they often just steal another one) or lock them up, while the second group usually grow out of it, if they live long enough. Similarly, the incompetent are a danger to themselves and others, and another group who just shouldn’t be on the road.

In all of these categories, speed (where it is relevant) is not the real cause, it is the symptom of the underlying problem. But it is so much easier to be seen to be Doing Something and finding a simple culprit, because complexity costs money and it doesn’t ‘sell’. So governments won’t be satisfied until we’re all driving at walking pace (I exaggerate, but you get the picture) because of the activities of a small, narcissistic minority.

Driving is just an inherently dangerous activity. The road toll will never be zero because, to quote AbbFab, “s$#t happens”. Still, keep punishing Mr and Mrs Average for going 6 k’s over the speed limit because it makes you feel better. Meanwhile, the ratbags and the idiots continue on their merry way, uncaring and/or oblivious…

Mr Gillespie 3:11 pm 22 Dec 16

What is a “shockingly high road toll” depends on the ratio of deaths to some arbitrary number, like per 100,000 head of population. Consider the fact that the population of Canberra is increasing and continues to increase, how do you expect the death toll to decrease? And if it’s “double digits”, does that suggest that a total of 10 is a lot more shocking than a total of 9?

dungfungus 8:56 am 22 Dec 16

Southerly_views said :

Dungfungus quoted Mysteryman:

Mostly, I second what MysteryMan said, because I speed everywhere I go (except past schools) due to the ludicrously arbitrary nature of most speed limits. However, I have one question about all of this: WHY can you buy a vehicle that even *CAN* do 231km/h????
Gunshops sell bolt-action .303 rifles. They do not sell M60 machine guns. Or Sidewinder missiles. And that seems sensible.
So why do car manufacturers get to sell vehicles with performance capabilities that cannot even remotely be legally demonstrated anywhere on our public roads?

The reality is that even small city cars have been manufactured to achieve economy and fuel efficiency using small high performance engines (fuel injected or turbo etc) that are often less than 1.5 litres in size and capable of reaching well beyond 120kph. This has been forced on the manufacturers by international legislation which has also resulted in the common trend of almost identical “world cars” being designed to sell in different countries to lower manufacturing costs.

No injuries or injuries of varying severity are the norm for most vehicle accidents in Canberra due to vehicle anti-intrusion features, seatbelts, child-seats and airbags. If you collide with another car, a tree or something else at 100+ kph (or sometimes at lower speeds) and happen to be sitting in the seat where the intrusion takes place then at least one individual inside the vehicle/s will probably die.

In the end it gets back to drivers paying attention and allocating adequate mental resources to the driving task at hand. Speed needs to be matched to the conditions along with a repeated and reasonable mental calculation by the driver of the level of risk due to frequent changes in weather conditions, visibility and the traffic situation.

It doesn’t matter if you are driving a clapped-out bomb, a Corolla, a Volvo, 4WD, Porsche or Tesla….your chance of survival in an accident may change slightly by brand of car. Even small unintentional errors have lead to tragedy. Despite the best laid out roads, higher speeds proportionally increase the likelihood of someone dying due to simple physics, G-forces and frail human anatomy. Tragic outcomes are even more likely if you happen to be a pedestrian or cyclist!

Errr, I don’t think I quoted MysetryMan at all.

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