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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?
wildturkeycanoe 10:21 pm 20 Dec 16

Oh, how I wish Santa would buy me a high definition dash cam for my car.
Today at the lights of Southern Cross and Coulter Drive, a car with a trailer changed lanes through the middle of the intersection, cutting off a gold sedan. The Sedan decided then to swap sides too before we got across the lights, leaving tiny gaps between vehicles. Then they continued to perpetuate this ridiculous driving by doing exactly the same thing to the car towing the trailer, swerving rapidly in front of them [with millimeters to spare] and changing two lanes in one swoop to turn right into Lathlain. We couldn’t believe our eyes at the sheer recklessness, started by one idiot and then repeated by the victim. This tit-for-tat behavior is exactly how road rage incidents begin and how innocent people get mixed up in it.
This kind of thing usually only happens once in a blue moon, but today it even happened twice. Only an hour later on the way home, we witnessed yet another cowboy pulling a swift lane change in front of another car, almost hitting them. Even worse, they weren’t even turning from the next intersection and kept going straight ahead. There was absolutely no need for the merge, but they obviously didn’t do a shoulder check even though they had been driving next to this other vehicle for several hundred meters.
Am I the only one who thinks that at least half the people on the road really shouldn’t be driving?

HenryBG 9:19 pm 20 Dec 16

Mysteryman said :

Does anyone else wonder why the increase in speed cameras in the ACT hasn’t resulted in safer roads? I’ll tell you why; because they aren’t tackling the problem.

They need a “broken windows” policy when it comes to road safety.

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.
Driving around with illegal lights on.
Driving around with a broken headlight or any other kind of offence in that category.

Address the minor offending and the major offending will often never happen when otherwise it would.

HenryBG 9:15 pm 20 Dec 16

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?

Mysteryman 11:09 am 20 Dec 16

“So where are we going wrong?”

We’re going wrong by expecting that a high risk activity should be totally free of risk. It never will be. People will always die in motor vehicle accidents.

“Speed remains the biggest factor in most incidents. “

Does it? In 2009, Jon Stanhope decided to introduce point-to-point speed cameras in the ACT. It was a stupid idea then (as it is now). Stanhope trotted out the old line about it making roads safer and lowering deaths. I looked into the statistics available at the time and was not surprised to discover that speeding was not the primary cause for nearly 70% of the fatalities on ACT roads. That wasn’t just a single year statistic, that was trend going back a decade from when I looked. I’m having trouble finding up-to-date data at the moment, but I’m willing to bet it hasn’t changed much in the last 6 years.

One of the biggest problems we have is that people mindlessly repeat the “speeding kills” mantra without any critical thought. If you crash at 100km/h in a 100km/h zone, you’re likely to suffer the same fate as if you crashed at 108km/h. Could doing 8km/h faster than the limit cause the crash? Doubtful. The reality is that inattention, incompetence, impaired driving, and terrible habits (including breaking other laws – like running red lights) kill. Of the statistics I found, age (elderly drivers) and alcohol/drugs were the largest contributing factors. But it’s difficult to police these things and maintain a steady revenue stream at the same time, so we just hear the “speeding kills!” line over, and over, and over again.

Does anyone else wonder why the increase in speed cameras in the ACT hasn’t resulted in safer roads? I’ll tell you why; because they aren’t tackling the problem.

Of course, you’re always going to get your Justin ‘Mully’ Williams drivers who crash at 80 or 90km/h over the limit, but they are the exception to the rule and shouldn’t be used as justification for bad road policy.

wildturkeycanoe 6:51 am 20 Dec 16

justin heywood said :

But in regard to the current spike in fatalities, has anyone else had close shaves with people wandering out of their lane whilst looking intently at their lap? (i.e. texting).

On Saturday as we ventured to Parkwood to drop off some green waste, a young female driver approaching us overtook another car whilst going through the “S” bends, over double white lines AND whilst talking on their mobile phone. Not to mention we were coming the other way too. Idiocy seems to be getting more prevalent every day. Does everyone feel absolutely indestructible when driving?

Another thing I have noticed, which I am not sure is something new or has been around since vulcanised rubber was discovered, is slippery roads. After the recent rains I noticed that regardless of how slowly I attempted to take the local roundabout, my tyres would lose traction at the slightest touch of the accelerator. Intersections felt like ice skating rinks and it even happened on a straight stretch when the auto transmission kicked up into third gear. I’m not talking about a powerful six cylinder passenger sedan either, but a four cylinder diesel 4×4. I do not remember roads being so slippery when I was a young P-plater, when getting the rear tyres to spin up at the lights was a thrill. As soon as we get a few drops of hydrogen dioxide on the chip seal, it gets dangerously slippery, so much so that the automatic traction control is engaging frequently. Yes the tyres are in good condition and no I am not being a lead foot in the wet. It is difficult to do so in a sluggish diesel automatic 4×4 anyway.
This phenomenon isn’t something new but it seems to be worse than in the past. Wet weather also appears to be causing more people to lose control, with cars spearing off into fences at roundabouts, others being sandwiched at peak hour hot spots and quite a few sitting on traffic islands at intersections. Is there a reason for the increased carnage? Are tread patterns losing their effectiveness or cohesion due to manufacturing or design flaws? Has the composition of the road base changed significantly? Is there more lubricant being leaked onto the roads or have drivers just gotten way too trusting that their modern cars will correct their mistakes for them? Here’s an even more far fetched assumption. Has the global climate caused there to be less frequent rain and in shorter bursts, thus not washing away residues from the surface and increasing the frequency of that first dangerous period when oil and water form a slick, slippery road to contend with?

To end my rant I leave you with my advice for this Christmas period.
– Don’t touch your phone while driving. Missing a call or not replying to a text is not life threatening. If it is urgent, pull over.
– Don’t be a Mr. Magoo and drive twenty or more kilometers an hour slower than the speed limit, especially in the right hand lane. It might be totally legal to do so, but out of courtesy please allow those behind you to to overtake so they aren’t frustrated by your selfish antics.
– Keep your car in its own lane, this is why they have lines on the road. If you can’t prevent the vehicle wandering half a car width into oncoming traffic, better hand your license in and catch a bus instead.
– Do not flick your cigarette butt out the window, it could start a bushfire. Cars do still have ash trays in them.
Happy holidays everyone.

Southerly_views 1:37 am 20 Dec 16

Short but true:

Most accidents are caused by the lack of adequate attention to the driving task and little anticipation for the rapidly changing conditions around the vehicle.

This is usually coupled with a lapse in concentration due to distraction, fatigue, alcohol, drugs or sudden illness. Excessive speeds and/or lack of experience are sometimes involved but not always.

If people are taught early with good effect to attend to the driving task at hand plus how to concentrate, anticipate and react while learning to acknowledge but ignore distractions…then the accident rate would drop. None of this is simple or easy but it does require a life-long commitment to good safe driving that needs to be instilled in all learners from day one, no matter what their age.

There is no single solution to achieve this but we must keep trying different ideas. Remote cameras and speed vans are not the solution but an increased and visible police presence will capture many more different indiscretions than cameras ever will.

And yes, it is now four times this year I have driven onto the footpath to avoid a collision with an approaching driver cutting the corner across the centreline of the same curve along our street. I hope my luck holds out!

Jane Speechley 9:55 pm 19 Dec 16

justin heywood said :

But in regard to the current spike in fatalities, has anyone else had close shaves with people wandering out of their lane whilst looking intently at their lap? (i.e. texting).

I’ve had two oncoming near misses this year.

I wish I had a dashcam today to record the person who cut across in front of me in a 100kmph zone, because she was cruising along in the right hand lane and suddenly realised she wanted to take the left exit. The very definition of an accident waiting to happen.

Are we facing an epidemic of driver distraction? No sign of a phone, but I honestly think she realised, and just swung the wheel without either looking or thinking …

Bonkers 9:26 pm 19 Dec 16

I think part of the problem lies with the fact that many “Canberrans” are temporary in nature. While I haven’t been able to find any hard stats on it, I think most would agree that we’re a stopover destination for many people.

I grew up and learned to drive in Canberra, and consider myself to be a decent and considerate driver. When I drive in other cities, particularly Sydney and Melbourne, I find it far less considerate and much more aggressive.

With the transient nature of a significant number of Canberra’s population (uni students, Defence personnel, APS postings etc), it’s no wonder the “Canberra Driver” gets a bad rap. Mostly because many Canberra Drivers learned to drive in other environments and don’t realise that driving here isn’t a case of everyone for themselves.

That said, having grown up here I know a lot of back streets and alternate routes, so when there’s a bingle or roadworks I can still get to my destination through local knowledge, while all the interstate ring-ins get stuck, so I’m not going to complain about them too much as they keep my secret alternate routes traffic free!

justin heywood 3:14 pm 19 Dec 16

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

While it may be hard to kill yourself in a shiny new 5 star ANCAP-rated vehicle, the real, late-night, high-speed stuff is often done in no-star bombs.

But in regard to the current spike in fatalities, has anyone else had close shaves with people wandering out of their lane whilst looking intently at their lap? (i.e. texting).

I’ve had two oncoming near misses this year.

Jane Speechley 2:47 pm 19 Dec 16

marshy1982 said :

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

And I’ll add a link to the original source 😉

So the US reserved show both the total number of fatal accidents, and the number of deaths proportionate to population, are trending downwards?

Interesting their research also shows a little spike in 2015 … interesting also that there seems to be a spike in fatalities around the time mandatory seat belts were introduced!?

Jane Speechley 2:43 pm 19 Dec 16

Holden Caulfield said :

I get that putting “Canberra drivers” in the headline is probably an SEO approach, but we also need to move beyond this Canberra drivers are bad myth.

There are bad drivers everywhere in Australia! Where you reside is not a factor in your driving ability; good, bad or otherwise.

Very good point, HC. I did actually have as line in there about the national road toll, but took it out, as we do try to keep focused on the Canberra experience.

But certainly, there was no intent to suggest we’re driving any worse than anyone else – I don’t buy into that myth at all – and absolutely, the national statistics show it’s a nationwide issue.

DragonRyda 2:15 pm 19 Dec 16

I would hate to have to go to an accident and watch someone die. I can well understand why the police/ambo’s plead for a zero road toll. But frankly this is a pointless target. Why do people die from motor vehicle accidents? Because driving is hella dangerous. Hurtling along in a tonne and a half of steel, there will always be deaths. I am not saying that I am happy about that, but it’s the only realistic viewpoint. Cars are so powerful, silent and smooth that it is easy to go over the posted speed limit. The limits irk me particularly on the highways. The Hume Highway used to be a bumpy, twisty, narrow road with crumbling edges and trees encroaching on the road. Yet even then we were allowed to zoom along at 100Kph in our EH’s & XY’s. Now, the road is spacious, smooth, flat. And the “Please don’t speed” signs have all been replaced with “Please stay awake” ones.

Holden Caulfield 12:31 pm 19 Dec 16

I get that putting “Canberra drivers” in the headline is probably an SEO approach, but we also need to move beyond this Canberra drivers are bad myth.

There are bad drivers everywhere in Australia! Where you reside is not a factor in your driving ability; good, bad or otherwise.

Holden Caulfield 12:24 pm 19 Dec 16

The simple fact is that it’s too easy to get a licence in Australia. More importantly, once you have one, it’s way too easy to keep it. We should have re-testing requirements, even if it’s as simple as a theory test so that we’re up to speed on any changes to the road rules. Although, a practical test would be much better.

It’s easier and cheaper to blame speeding as the only poor driver behaviour.

Having said all of that, as much as we choose to deny it or fail to accept it, road deaths are a cost we incur in return for the convenience of road travel. That doesn’t mean we should not do everything we can to reduce the road toll, but let’s not pretend that a zero fatality road toll, for example, is actually achievable.

I believe a calmer and more considerate driver attitude is key in increasing road safety.

Easier said than done, I acknowledge. But frustration at poor or inconsiderate driving can lead to people taking unnecessary risks, just as much as the idiot who is driving recklessly puts themselves and others at unjust risk.

The trouble is, often times, poor or inconsiderate driving, is a possible result at this country’s focus on speeding as the root of all evil where this it’s no uncommon to hear, “But I’m a really good driver because I don’t speed.”

There is a tiny bit right with that statement, but a lot more wrong with such a claim. And yet, that’s the approach our government’s keep on taking.

“Speed remains the biggest factor in most incidents.” Of course. Speed is a factor in ALL incidents. It’s unlikely that two stationary objects are going to crash into each other. We the public and our governments need to move beyond this as the cause of accidents. It’s a lazy and simplistic approach. Until we do, nothing much will change.

Oh, also, ABS is not automatic braking. And while not meaning to be overly critical, this is another issue that can lead to accidents on our roads. The public often have little to no idea as to the safety features of their car, what all those acronyms means and how they work. Let alone practical experience of seeing them in action, which can be done in a controlled environment during driver training courses etc. But that’s another reply!

marshy1982 12:01 pm 19 Dec 16
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