The Joint Select Committee on Road Safety (committee) was established under a resolution of appointment which was passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate on 1 August 2019.
The committee was established to inquire into and report on the steps that can be taken to reduce Australia's road accident rates, and investigate the impact of trauma and death on our roads. It was determined that an interim report would be presented on or before 30 March 2020, and a final report by 31 July 2020.
On 28 November 2019, the House of Representatives agreed to extend the interim reporting date to (on or before) 31 July 2020 and the final report date to (on or before) 31 October 2020. These extensions were agreed to in the Senate on 2 December 2019.
The committee’s terms of reference were also clarified following the establishment of the committee, with both Houses agreeing that the committee would inquire into and report on:
the effectiveness of existing road safety support services and programs, including opportunities to integrate Safe System principles into health, education, industry and transport policy;
the impact of road trauma on the nation, including the importance of achieving zero deaths and serious injuries in remote and regional areas;
the possible establishment of a future parliamentary Standing Committee on Road Safety and its functions;
measures to ensure state, territory and local government road infrastructure investment incorporates the Safe System principles;
road trauma and incident data collection and coordination across Australia;
recommending strategies, performance measures and targets for the next National Road Safety Strategy;
recommendations for the role of the newly established Office of Road Safety; and
other measures to support the Australian Parliament’s ongoing resolve to reduce incidents on our roads, with a focus on the recommendations from the Inquiry into the effectiveness of the National Road Safety Strategy 2011–2020.
Conduct of the inquiry
Information about the inquiry was made available on the committee's webpage. The committee also wrote to Commonwealth, state and territory government departments and agencies, specialist and industry groups, research organisations, road services organisations, insurance agencies, industry groups and community groups to invite submissions.
The committee received 55 submissions to the inquiry from individuals and organisations. These submissions are listed in Appendix 1.
The committee also conducted five public hearings, based out of Canberra on the following dates:
The transcripts from these hearings, together with submissions, answers to questions on notice and additional information are available on the committee’s website. Witnesses who provided evidence at the hearings are listed in Appendix 2.
The committee would like to thank all the organisations and individuals who contributed to the inquiry, particularly those who provided written submissions or gave evidence at public hearings. These contributions greatly assisted the committee in its deliberations.
This report is comprised of seven chapters, as follows:
Chapter 1 outlines the referral and conduct of the inquiry, and provides information regarding road trauma in Australia. It details a number of recent inquiries into Australian road safety, the current road safety policy framework and the coordination of safety responsibilities. The chapter also considers the National Road Safety Strategy (NRSS).
Chapter 2 examines the issues around jurisdictional cohesion, state and territory partnerships, Safe System principles and the role of the Office of Road Safety (ORS). It provides an overview of road safety programs (including the Black Spot Program) and their effectiveness, and examines the issue of road safety funding—particularly in relation to local government. The issue of data—its collection, harmonisation, monitoring, and use in reporting is also detailed in Chapter 2.
Chapter 3 considers the merits of establishing a Parliamentary Standing Committee on Road Safety (Standing Committee), and outlines stakeholder's views regarding the Standing Committee’s functions and how it should operate.
Chapter 4 details the evidence regarding Australia's road infrastructure and road quality, and considers the improvements that should be implemented to benefit vulnerable road users.
Chapter 5 examines the issues around Australia's vehicle fleet management, including the management of heavy vehicles, electric vehicles and autonomous vehicles.
Chapter 6 provides comment on the issues of driver behaviour, education and training, and considers the role of technology and targeted driver education in improving road safety outcomes.
Chapter 7 outlines stakeholders' observations and the committee's views in relation to the focus of the NRSS for 2021-2030, including the strategy's targets, key performance indicators and data collection and management.
The committee makes a number of recommendations throughout the report.
Road trauma in Australia
On average, more than 1200 people are killed and at least 36 000 are hospitalised each year as a result of crashes on Australian roads. As outlined below, in 2019 two-thirds of these occurred on rural and regional areas.
The majority of the evidence received by the committee concerning road trauma in metropolitan Australia, was in relation to the disproportionate impact of those road users outside these areas. As such, and in line with the committee's terms of reference, any geographical focus of this report is largely on the efforts need to make rural and regional roads as safe as possible.
Australia has seen a progressive decline in the number of deaths and serious injuries on Australian roads over the past four decades. In 2019, 1188 people died on Australian roads, compared to 3798 deaths in 1970. Taking into account population increases over time, the annual rate of deaths on the road network has reduced from 30.4 to 4.7 deaths per 100 000 people between 1970 and 2019.
Stagnation in improving road safety outcomes
Since 2015, however, the long term decline in the number of people seriously injured or killed on our roads appears to have stalled. A September 2019 report prepared by the Australian Automobile Association (AAA), titled Reviving Road Safety, identified that there has been an increase in the number of people killed on the road network each year since 2015:
In the past four years [between 2015 and 2019], the road toll for the 12 months ending June 30 has been higher than it was in the 12 months ending June 2015.
In the second half of 2015, the road toll rose and has remained at higher levels ever since, ending decades of continuous improvement.
In its submission, the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria (RACV) noted that from 2015, Australia has failed to be on track to meet the NRSS target of a 30 per cent reduction in fatalities. Figure 1.1 below illustrates the fatality trend since 2010, against the targets.
Figure 1.1: Road fatality trend in Australia and targeted trend, 2010-2021
Source: Royal Automobile Club of Victoria, Submission 17, p. 3.
While the number of people killed on Australia's roads in 2019 was still fewer than the annual average for the preceding ten years, 53 more people were killed than in 2018 (a 4.7 per cent increase). Some states and territories also recorded a marked increase in the number of deaths on the road. In Victoria, for example, there was a 25.8 per cent increase in the number of people killed in 2019, compared to 2018.
It was suggested by some submitters that there appears to be a level of tolerance in Australia regarding the number of deaths that occur on our roads. The Royal Automotive Club of Western Australia (RACWA) described the current situation as "one of the largest societal plagues" that faces Australia, and noted that:
Australians seemingly accept a level of trauma on our roads that would never be considered acceptable in any other aspect of life.
The Amy Gillett Foundation expressed a similar sentiment:
There is an acknowledgement of the trauma and tragedy of deaths on our roads, but as Dr John Crozier said, the trauma is a "drip-feed", and while as many people are killed in Australia every year as would be killed in just one plane crash, this small incremental number has become a tolerated part of road use that largely goes unnoticed by the Australian public unless the person killed is a known to them (family or friend) or a celebrity is killed.
Road trauma in regional and remote Australia
Road travel is an essential element of life in Australia, being such a geographically diverse and large country. The RACWA commented on the importance and prevalence of road travel in regional and remote areas:
It is often the case that road networks provide a vital, even only, connection of one community to another. In the absence of alternatives, the private passenger car will be the dominant mode of transport, with high proportions of heavy trucks being an economic lifeline transporting goods from farm to market and back again from manufacture to consumer.
However, evidence presented to the inquiry overwhelmingly indicated that people driving on regional and remote roads continue to be disproportionately impacted by road trauma. It was emphasised by submitters that while only 28 per cent of Australia's population live in regional and remote areas, two‑thirds of all deaths on Australian roads in 2019 occurred on regional or remote roads.
Austroads and the Northern Territory Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics referred to the findings of the Austroads report National View on Regional and Remote Safety, which indicated that the fatality rate per capita is nearly five times greater in regional and remote areas than major cities, and is highest in very remote areas.
Figure 1.2 below, produced by the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics (BITRE), highlights the disparity in road fatalities between metropolitan, and regional and remote areas.
Figure 1.2: Fatality rate per 100,000 population by jurisdiction and ABS Remoteness Areas, 2017
Source: Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics, Road Trauma Australia 2018 Statistical Summary (2019)
The AAA highlighted that when compared to the road deaths per population in other OECD countries, the number of deaths on regional and remote roads in Australia fared poorly. The AAA noted that:
In 2016, outer regional Australia recorded 14.20 road deaths per 100,000 population, remote Australia 16.68 per 100,000 and very remote Australia 34.58 per 100,000 population. This compares to 11.97 road deaths per 100,000 for Chile – the worst performing OECD nation.
Road trauma rates in regional Australia
Statistics show that not only Australia-wide, but within each jurisdiction, road trauma is disproportionately experienced on regional and remote roads. For example, the RAC reported on the figures for Western Australia, observing that 20 per cent of the population lives in regional Western Australia but 60 per cent of all road deaths in 2019 occurred in regional parts of the state.
In Queensland, 59 per cent of road deaths from 2014 to 2018 occurred on rural roads, with data available indicating that in 2019 this figure rose to over 60 per cent.
The Inquiry into the NRSS 2011-2020 reported that while much of the road safety benefit in the past decade has been associated with improvements to the national and state-managed major road system together with metropolitan centres:
…driving on a local road involves an increased risk of being seriously injured that is 1.5 times higher than driving on a state road.
As highlighted by the Northern Territory’s Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics, the Northern Territory has recorded the most road deaths of all Australian jurisdictions. The Northern Territory Department advised that in 2019, the Northern Territory recorded 14.64 deaths per 100 000 population, "which is over three times the national rate of 4.68 over the same period". The Northern Territory Department also indicated that over the last decade, 72 per cent of fatal crashes in the Northern Territory occurred in regional and remote areas.
The impact of road trauma on regional Victoria was described by the RACV, which noted that while many people were travelling through regional areas, the evidence showed that it was predominately locals who were dying on regional roads. The RACV pointed out that:
In 2019, around 73 per cent of the 146 deaths in regional Victoria alone were people driving in their local region close to their home addresses, with run-off road and head-on crashes resulting in 94 fatalities, while 101 people died in high-speed zones.
It has also been observed that there are additional challenges in effectively improving road safety and dealing with road trauma in regional and remote areas, including a low population density, distance and long road networks.
Cost of road trauma
Road‑related trauma places a significant financial and social burden on the community. Stakeholders, such as the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) noted that:
The global motor vehicle industry recognises that whilst motor vehicles contribute positively to societies in many ways, road trauma from accidents has an unacceptable human, economic and social cost for our societies.
The quantified financial cost of road trauma on the Australian economy in 2016 was estimated to be $33.16 billion, which consisted of:
$9.38 billion in property damage costs;
$10.2 billion in fatality costs; and
$13.58 billion in injury costs.
A recent inquiry into the 2011-2020 NRSS also found that:
Failing to improve our current situation will result in 12,000 people killed and 360,000 admitted to hospital at a cost of $300 billion [nationally] over the next decade.
The RACV noted that these estimates were likely to be conservative, given the "poor and inconsistent data collection across jurisdictions especially for serious injury".
Turning to the financial impact of road trauma in each jurisdiction, it is estimated that the cost of road trauma to the state of Western Australia is between $900 million and $2 billion per annum, and $3.7 billion each year in Victoria. In the Northern Territory, it is estimated that a single road death costs approximately $2.8 million.
Road Trauma Support Services Victoria (RTSSV) estimated that the lifetime cost per incident case for spinal cord injuries caused by a road incident range between $6.1 million and $9.1 million. RTSSV's submission highlights the value that can be derived from ensuring that all Australians have access to post‑trauma care.
Social and psychological impacts
Beyond the financial cost, the emotional and social cost of road trauma on the community is far-reaching and long-lasting. The RACV observed that:
Beyond the numbers, the impact of road trauma is felt daily by the survivors of road crashes, whose injuries could have been prevented by more successful implementations of the Safe Systems on our roads. For those who do not survive, the ripple effect of road trauma is felt emotionally and monetarily by family and friends who have lost loved ones.
The Australian Road Research Board (ARRB) noted the far-reaching impact that a road trauma can have on a local community:
The impact of a crash, particularly on rural and regional communities will often spread beyond the victim and their immediate family, with a tragedy affecting friends and work colleagues, local social networks, community groups and clubs. Those who are seriously injured will require ongoing medical and social support during their rehabilitation and recovery, and this may continue for months; for those who suffer a catastrophic injury, there may need to be ongoing support for years, and even the rest of their life.
The committee was told that the ripple effect of road trauma in regional and remote communities is often compounded by the fact that there is limited access to the necessary medical, rehabilitation and support services. Those in regional and remote areas frequently spend significant time travelling to regional centres or capital cities to access the required care.
While the psychological impact of a road injury may be obvious for the individuals involved, as well as their family and friends, the Australian Road Safety Foundation (ARSF) noted that road trauma can also negatively impact the psychological and potentially physical wellbeing of first responders, emergency services personnel and medical staff who care for the injured and support their families.
Streets Alive Yarra submitted that in addition to the immediate physical and emotional trauma, road trauma has a broader impact on the nation, including:
ongoing care of those affected by physical trauma;
dissuading people from choosing lower cost forms of transport, such as walking, cycling or using public transport, owing to the risk of death or serious injury from being struck by people driving cars;
worse population health outcomes (feeling unhealthy and unhappy, less able to work);
higher population health costs owing to a population that is less healthy than it could be; and
lower tourism revenue, owing to cities that are less attractive than they could be.
Improving road safety in Australia
Since the mid‑1990s, there have been numerous reviews into Australia's ongoing road safety issues. Various strategies—with the aim of reducing incidents on our roads—have also been implemented during that time.
Despite these reviews and strategies, and a significant number of recommendations put forward to reduce road accident rates, there remains room for improvement in implementing these recommendations and doing so more promptly.
Some of the recent reviews and strategies are detailed below.
National Road Safety Strategy (NRSS)
In 1992, federal, state and territory transport Ministers established the first NRSS, which "provided a framework for national collaboration on road safety improvement". The NRSS is a strategy that details high-level directions and interventions designed to drive national road safety for the upcoming decade.
The first NRSS covered the period from 1992 to 2001, with the second strategy in place from 2001 to 2010. The third, and current, NRSS commenced in 2011 and is due to expire at the end of 2020.
Under the second strategy, Australia was one of the first countries to adopt the Safe System approach to road safety improvement. This system:
… takes a holistic view of the road transport system and the interactions of its various elements. It aspires to create a road transport system in which human mistakes do not result in death or serious injury.
The current NRSS (2011-2020) aims to reduce the annual number of both deaths and serious injuries on Australian roads by at least 30 per cent. When these targets were developed, they were considered ambitious, but achievable.
Unlike the second strategy, which set a target for fatalities only, the current NRSS gives greater attention to the serious injury dimension of the road trauma problem. The NRSS noted, however, that the level of trauma reduction that could be achieved by 2020 would depend on the costs and policy changes that the community was prepared to accept in return for a safer road transport system.
As the NRSS is a strategy, not an implementation plan, it details high-level directions and interventions to drive national road safety by the end of 2020. The NRSS has a focus on areas where there is evidence that a sustained, coordinated effort can lead to large gains. For example, the NRSS notes that:
… there is currently no reliable, national collection of serious injury crash data, largely because of jurisdictional differences in injury definitions and reporting arrangements.
The current NRSS states that while its success will be reflected in the actual reduction in the number of serious casualties, a range of Safety Performance Indictors (SPIs) have also been established. Several other high-level outcome indicators will be used to track performance over the decade, including the number of:
deaths/serious injuries resulting from road crashes;
road crashes resulting in deaths/serious injuries;
deaths/serious injuries per 100 000 population;
deaths/serious injuries per 100 million vehicle-kilometres travelled; and
deaths/serious injuries per 10 000 registered vehicles.
The Safe System approach
The Safe System approach, which has been integrated into the NRSS since its second iteration, takes a "holistic view of the road transport system" and the:
… interactions among roads and roadsides, travel speeds, vehicles and road users. It is an inclusive approach that caters for all groups using the road system, including drivers, motorcyclists, passengers, pedestrians, cyclists, and commercial and heavy vehicle drivers. Consistent with our long-term road safety vision, it recognises that people will always make mistakes and may have road crashes—but the system should be forgiving and those crashes should not result in death or serious injury.
The four main pillars of the Safe System are Safe Roads, Safe Speeds, Safe Vehicles and Safe People. Progress in meeting the targets of the NRSS will be assessed against these specific four areas within the Safe System, including:
intersection crashes; and
crashes occurring on metropolitan, regional and remote roads;
young driver and motorcycle rider deaths;
older driver and motorcycle deaths;
death from crashes involving a heavy vehicle;
number of deaths from crashes where vehicle speed was a contributory factor;
average age of the Australian vehicle fleet;
percentage of new vehicles sold with a 5-star ANCAP rating; and
percentage of new vehicles sold with key safety features; and
drivers and motorcycle riders killed who had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) above the legal limit;
deaths from crashes involving an unlicensed driver or motorcycle rider; and
vehicle occupants killed who were not wearing a restraint.
Work has commenced on the development of the next NRSS for 2021-2030, and it is expected to be finalised in early 2021, along with a National Action Plan for the next three years (National Action Plans are discussed below). The new strategy will aim to take a "new approach to road safety in Australia", and will recognise that road safety is "not solely a transport problem". In addition, it has been recognised that:
We need long-term cultural change towards road safety, to make road safety 'business as usual' and fostering a road safety culture across Australian society.
[The new strategy] is expected to include a set of targets and priorities to improve road safety in Australia and get the settings right for road safety as we move towards our long-term goal of zero deaths and injuries on our roads.
Chapter 7 of this report will consider the development of the next NRSS, and the evidence received from stakeholders regarding the key elements which should be included in the next strategy.
National Road Safety Action Plan 2018-2020
The National Road Safety Action Plan 2018-2020 (Action Plan) was developed to support the implementation of the NRSS. The Action Plan details priority national actions to be taken by governments over the final three years of the current NRSS (2018-2020). Prior to this, a National Road Safety Action Plan was implemented for the three years 2015 to 2017, detailing a range of priority national actions.
The 2018-2020 Action Plan contains nine Priority Actions, which all jurisdictions agreed must be completed in order to assist with meeting the NRSS targets for road trauma reduction. The nine Priority Actions are listed below:
review speed limits on high risk regional and remote roads, in consultation with the community;
target infrastructure funding towards safety-focused initiatives to reduce trauma on regional roads;
implement safety treatments to reduce trauma from crashes at urban intersections;
increase deployment of Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) in both heavy and light vehicles;
increase roadside drug testing significantly in all states and territories;
reduce speed limits to 40km/h or lower in pedestrian and cyclist places;
increase deployment of point-to-point and mobile cameras to achieve safe travel on Australia's road network;
improve heavy vehicle safety through improvements to licensing arrangements and fatigue laws; and
increase the market uptake of safer new and used vehicles and emerging vehicle technologies with high safety benefits.
Responsibility for implementation of the nine Priority Actions is shared between the Commonwealth, states and territories, local government, Austroads, the police, the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) and the National Transport Commission (NTC).
Inquiry into the 2011-2020 National Road Safety Strategy
In 2015 and 2016 there were increases in the number of road crash deaths and serious injuries resulting from road accidents. It was observed at the time that "Australia's road safety performance has stalled".
As a result, on 8 September 2017, then Transport Minister—the Hon. Darren Chester, MP—announced the commencement of an independent inquiry into the effectiveness of the 2011-2020 NRSS (the NRSS Inquiry). The inquiry into the NRSS was co‑chaired by two independent experts—Dr John Crozier, Chair of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons' Trauma Committee, and Associate Professor Jeremy Woolley, Director of the Centre for Automotive Safety Research at the University of Adelaide.
The inquiry was tasked with examining the causes and key factors behind the increase in death and injury rates in 2015 and 2016, and with reviewing the effectiveness of the NRSS and the 2015-2017 Action Plan, "with particular reference to the increase in deaths and serious injuries from road crashes over the last two years". In addition, the inquiry was issued with terms of reference to:
identify issues and priorities for consideration in development of a post‑2020 NRSS and 2018-2020 Action Plan, focusing on how Australia can recognise and move towards a safe road transport system which minimises harm to all users; and
advise on arrangements for the management of road safety and the NRSS, looking at best coordination and use of the capacity and contributions of all partners.
The co‑chairs of the NRSS Inquiry provided the Inquiry's final report to the Commonwealth Government on 12 September 2018, titled Final Report of the Inquiry into the National Road Safety Strategy 2011-2020 (NRSS Inquiry Report). The report contained the following twelve recommendations:
create strong national leadership by appointing a Cabinet minister with specific multi-agency responsibility to address the hidden epidemic of road trauma including its impact on the health system;
establish a national road safety entity reporting to the Cabinet minister with responsibility for road safety;
commit to a minimum $3 billion a year road safety fund;
set a vision zero target for 2050 with an interim target of vision zero for all major capital city CBD areas, and high-volume highways by 2030;
establish and commit to key performance indicators in time for the next strategy that measure and report how harm can be eliminated in the system, and that are published annually;
undertake a National Road Safety Governance Review by March 2019;
implement rapid deployment and accelerated uptake of proven vehicle safety technologies and innovation;
accelerate the adoption of speed management initiatives that support harm elimination;
invest in road safety focused infrastructure, safe system and mobility partnerships with state, territory and local governments that accelerate the elimination of high-risk roads;
make road safety a genuine part of business as usual within Commonwealth, state, territory and local government;
resource key road safety enablers and road safety innovation initiatives; and
implement life-saving partnerships with countries in the Indo‑Pacific and globally as appropriate to reduce road trauma.
On 1 July 2019, in response to the NRSS Inquiry recommendations, the Commonwealth Government established the Office of Road Safety (ORS) with the aim of providing "national leadership and coordination to improve road safety outcomes".
The findings and recommendations from the NRSS Inquiry were consistently and heavily drawn upon in submissions and evidence to the committee, and will be discussed further throughout this report.
Review of the National Road Safety Governance Arrangements
Following the NRSS Inquiry in November 2018, the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development announced a Review of the National Road Safety Governance Arrangements (Governance Review), to examine whether Australia had the appropriate governance arrangements in place to deliver the commitments made by governments to mainstream road safety in line with the Safe System approach.
The Governance Review was completed in mid-2019, and endorsed for publication by the Transport and Infrastructure Council (TIC) on 2 August 2019. The Review made the following key findings:
the Australian Government had not provided sufficiently strong leadership, coordination or advocacy on road safety to drive national trauma reductions, and the TIC had not been used to enable cross-jurisdiction decision-making to drive the national harm elimination agenda;
there was a clear need for greater leadership, strengthened management, heightened accountability and more effective coordination to reduce road trauma;
the Safe System approach had been adopted, but not ingrained or mainstreamed within government business by federal, state, territory or local governments, with calls that this had to be rectified, and the Safe System strategy and goals implemented and embedded at all levels of government;
road safety teams at all levels of government lacked influence across the Safe System pillars and within their own organisation (for example, road safety teams lacked influence over transport infrastructure design). The Review found that the Australian Government could play a significant role in driving connections through its partnership agreements with states and territories;
local government, despite owning most Australian roads, was not sufficiently resourced or engaged to deliver road safety;
the Australian Government needed to lift its efforts to improve the uptake of new safety technology in the Australian new vehicle fleet (via faster legislative implementation);
development of better performance information was needed, as well as a national framework for monitoring and evaluation, to better measure, target, monitor and evaluate data and performance, which would provide a results framework to support the objectives of the next NRSS—the Australian Government could take the lead on this through the ORS; and
further work was needed to explore the utility of a national no-blame investigator for heavy vehicle crashes.
The findings of the Governance Review continue to be raised as matters of concern in addressing road trauma, and similar points were made by numerous submitters and witnesses who engaged with this inquiry. The committee considers these matters throughout the report.