10 May 2021

How to solve car accidents forever

| James Coleman
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Dented vehicle

The results of a T-bone: a written-off car and a hyper-vigilant driver. Photo: James Coleman.

In September last year, the speed limit on Sutton Road was dropped from 100 km/h to 80, and in the last couple of weeks, the signs have been bowled over in protest. New signs are being installed and fingers are crossed these won’t suffer the same fate.

At about 11:45 pm on the night of 24 November 2018, a car speared into a tree along this road, killing both men inside.

At about 12:35 pm on 8 August 2019, a head-on collision occurred. Both vehicles caught fire and a man died at the scene. A woman was hospitalised.

This popular stretch between Queanbeyan and the Federal Highway has seen five fatalities and 17 injuries in the last seven years. Following a review of the situation and a comparison with the NSW Speed Zoning Guidelines, Transport for NSW has opted for the ‘speed kills’ fix.

This response holds that reducing speed reduces fatalities.

The good news is this will genuinely help. It has to – it’s basic physics. And it’s not like it will make your commute noticeably longer either. A government spokesperson has estimated the reduced speeds will add 90 seconds to the trip for the average driver, or the time it takes to walk into the office at the other end.

But it won’t fix the real problem, one that goes much further than Sutton Road.

A knocked over speed sign on Sutton Road

One of the many 80 km/h speed signs that have been knocked over on Sutton Road. Photo: Zac Hay.

My wife and I were involved in a T-bone accident last month. A ‘STOP’ sign marked the intersection, so the other driver obediently stopped and looked. I looked at him and registered that he had registered me. All was well until it wasn’t, and he plunged into the side of our car with that unforgettable crunch.

All of this unfolded below 30 km/h. All speed would have done is make it worse.

I’m sure you get where I’m going with this. Speed kills, but more to the point, inattention and carelessness and selfishness kills. I’m sure you also get that because it’s impossible to put a figure on these and they’re nearly as impossible to police.

But it always comes up whenever speed limits are discussed: how we should only consider raising speed limits if Learners and P-platers received better training, or if we were more like drivers in the UK and Europe who don’t jump queues or sit in the fast lane or breath down the necks of other cars.

To hold a Provisional driver’s licence in the ACT, you must be at least 17 years old, have held an ACT Learner licence for at least six months, and either passed a one-off assessment or been through the whole competency approach with an accredited driving instructor.

For those who hop into the driver’s seat whenever Dad needs something from Bunnings, this is pretty relaxed. And so for those getting their Ls after 1 January 2021, this was changed to include a logbook.

Car on wet race track

Driver training in progress at Wakefield Park race track, near Goulburn. Photo: James Coleman.

Now, drivers under 25 years of age are required to complete 100 supervised driving hours, including 10 at night, with drivers 25 years of age or older required to complete 50 supervised driving hours, including five at night.

Is this better? Maybe, but it still doesn’t address attitude. This is where the crash comes in, because I can confirm it definitely helps.

I’ve lost count of the number of intersections I’ve driven up to since that awful evening, my head popping out of the windscreen like a prairie dog’s, scouting for any possible dangers. Even though it wasn’t my fault, I like to think the experience has made me a better, more cautious, more observant driver.

However, for obvious reasons, the end doesn’t justify the means here. Crashing your car still isn’t recommended.

So do the opposite instead and book a spot in a defensive-driving course. Many companies offer these across the capital region, including just off Sutton Road at the Sutton Road Driver Training Centre. These usually start at about $250 for the day.

You’ll be safer; motorists around you will be safer.

Or here’s another one (I would say it’s cheaper but not sure it works out that way in the end): have a child. Nothing like precious cargo to have you acting like the owner of the proverbial china shop the bull got into.

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Finally Relented7:31 am 10 May 21

Finally. This constant reduction of speed is ridiculous. Could go back to horse and cart. Then no car accidents. Inattention and selfishness is absolutely the problem. Great, log your 100 hours. Doesn’t do anything for the attitudes. Compulsory defensive driving course sounds like a good idea. Bring back the test (create jobs too!!) . Rewarding good drivers sounds good too…from someone with no speeding ticket or accident. Loving many of the comments!

HiddenDragon6:12 pm 09 May 21

It’s not just about (road) speed and the other standard explanations – anyone who was listening carefully would have heard a stunning revelation recently from the AFP about the role of drug use in ACT road fatalities.

ChrisinTurner3:27 pm 09 May 21

In Germany it costs about €5000 to get your driver’s license due to the testing fees and compulsory driving instructor lessons.

I think the UK and Europe drive faster than Australia, with more cars on narrower roads, common on-street parking and more distractions with the denser mainly urban population and very busy roads with far more stopping, starting, lane changes and complex traffic systems. But they have less accidents per capita?
Better education is needed in Australia as congestion increases, more understanding of speed and better judgement of distance, learning how to drive in the rain, road manners, road courtesy, technical control, reaction times, observation, indicating, learning to drive with the traffic flow and maintaining speed that is not way under the speed limit, and moving out of the way for faster vehicles (it’s no driver’s responsbility to try and control other drivers by trying to uphold speed limits on behalf of the police…just get out of the way and let the nutters go). There will be a natural skill improvement as the driving environment becomes more complex, but there is also the Canberra problem of lots of overseas drivers from countries with dreadful road safety records being allowed to transfer licenses when they really need to take another test.

The maximum speed in the UK is 70mph which is 113km/h. This applies on motorways and A roads built to motorway standards designated as A (M) roads.

Roads similar to our single carriageway highways the speed limit is 60mp/h which is about 97km/h.

So round one up one down UK speed limits are much the same as here. Speed limits in built up areas also convert to figures similar to what we see here in Australia.

Parts of Europe do have higher limits with motorway speeds of up to 130km/h and of course there are the German Autobahns.

As for accidents per capita and comparing to Australia it’s not quite that simple. We drive more and we drive longer distances per capita which would impact per capita figures. For true comparison you would have to look at accidents per km driven, but even then that wouldn’t be a true representation due to population density etc. with more open road driving here and more city driving in Europe.

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