Road safety in regional and rural Australia
According to its terms of reference, the committee in this chapter
focuses on the different considerations affecting road safety in urban,
regional and rural areas. The committee notes that the terms urban, regional
and rural are used differently in a variety of policy settings. In this report,
however, the committee has chosen to use terminology used by the Bureau of
Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics (BITRE) in preparing annual
road crash statistics. Rather than referring to urban, regional and rural
areas, BITRE measure deaths and injuries in major cities, inner and outer
regional areas, and remote and very remote areas.
Therefore, discussion in this report uses the terms 'regional' and 'remote' to
include rural settings.
Evidence before the committee demonstrated beyond doubt that persons
driving on regional and remote roads are at greater risk of suffering road
trauma than their urban counterparts. The Department of Infrastructure and
Regional Development (the department) emphasised this difference, noting that:
regional and remote areas account for 65 per cent of deaths and
40 per cent of hospitalised injuries from road trauma;
annual hospitalised injuries per 100 000 persons are
approximately 50 per cent higher in regional areas and 200 per cent
higher in remote areas; and
in major cities more than half the road deaths occur where the
speed limit is 50 to 60 kilometres per hour, while in regional areas the
majority of road deaths occur where the speed limit is 100 kilometres per hour.
The committee heard that in regional areas, road deaths are twice the
national average. In remote areas, this increases to at least four times the
Put another way, Australia's regional and remote areas contain 30 per cent of
Australia's population but tragically account for over half the road toll.
Indigenous Australians living in remote areas are disproportionately
affected by road trauma. The Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia found
Indigenous Australians living in remote and very remote
areas, in particular, experienced higher rates of road transport injury deaths
and injury hospitalisations than both their Indigenous counterparts in major
cities, and their non-Indigenous counterparts in remote and very remote areas
of Australia. Remote and very remote Indigenous Australians were 2.5 times and
2.3 times more likely, respectively, to be killed in a road crash, compared to
non-Indigenous Australians in remote and very remote areas.
According to the Motor Accident Commission of South Australia (MAC),
South Australians outside of major cities are six times more likely to be
killed in a fatal car accident than their urban counterparts.
South Australia Police submitted:
...our stats show that country people kill themselves quite
often—more than metro people... And we do not believe it is all about engineering
roads or safer systems on roads; it is about driver behaviour and driver
The committee heard from SA Police that while 'there has been a
consistent reduction in fatal and serious injury crashes in both metropolitan
Adelaide and regional and remote South Australia', the rate of decrease outside
of major cities 'is not as great'.
MAC agreed with this analysis, and offered the following additional reason for
the increased severity of accidents in regional and remote areas:
[c]rashes...are actually considerably more severe in outcome
when they occur in more remote locations. This is not surprising because the
emergency response time is likely to be slower leading to greater severity...
The committee examines two significant contributing factors that it
considers can and should be addressed: road quality and driver behaviour.
Concerns about road quality featured heavily in evidence before the
committee. Mr Andrew Scarce, a driving instructor with Road Class
Driver Training, discussed the driving challenges presented by the poor
condition of Australia's regional and remote roads, suggesting that 'most
deaths on rural roads are not caused by extreme or risky behaviour but by
simple mistakes on very unforgiving roads'.
Monash University Accident Research Centre reported that in regional and
remote areas, 'three quarters of serious injury arise[s] from single vehicle
run-off-road crashes, usually on high-speed roads that frequently have poor
roadside safety infrastructure'. Evidence from other
states was consistent with this analysis.
For example, the South Australian Police stated that:
Of those rural fatal crashes, 52 per cent were a single
vehicle that had left the road, out of control, and hit a fixed object. So most
of those involved no other vehicles; they have just left the road, out of
control, and collided with something or rolled the car.
It was put to the committee that regional and remote roads do not meet the
standard of Safe System roads. Austroads submitted that to qualify as Safe
System roads, roads in regional and remote areas should contain audible edge
lines, flexible barriers (where volume dictates), a wider median on dual
carriage roads or barriers down the middle of the road to separate lanes.
The quality of Australia's regional and roads presents challenges not
typically experienced in urban areas.
Environmental factors that can exacerbate infrastructure issues include
corrugation, dust, potholes, wildlife and agricultural equipment. Insurance
Australia Group provided the following observation:
In terms of our rural drivers, they often face extra
challenges of travelling longer distances at higher average speeds, often on
poorer roads, sometimes in older vehicles with the added hazards of wildlife
and stock movements and that sort of thing...
The committee also heard that main roads in regional and remote areas
often function as both highways and community centres.
Improving road quality
Upgrading infrastructure in regional and remote areas was a key proposal
put forward to provide the same level of safety on regional and remote roads as
in major cities. For example, the Australian Automobile Association's (AAA) submission recommended
a holistic approach to infrastructure that is informed by cost‑benefit
Recommendation 3: Governments should invest in road safety
infrastructure treatments that are shown to have a positive benefit-cost ratio.
An investment of $4.7 billion would bring 85 per cent of the national highway
network to a level of 3-star or above, with a benefit-cost ratio of 3.49:1.
Recommendation 4: The entire National Highway Network should
have a minimum safety rating of 3-stars, with all new road sections to be
AAA's proposal included a number of treatments which would be
particularly conducive to improving road safety in regional and remote areas:
roadside and central median barriers and shoulder rumble strips;
protected turn lanes and additional lanes (2+1 with barrier);
improved skid resistance;
fewer roadside hazards; and
The committee asked the department to respond to the AAA's
recommendations and received the following response:
The Australian Government has committed $50 billion for
infrastructure investment from 2013-14 to 2019-20 onwards. This includes an
additional $200 million for the Black Spot Programme, bringing the total
commitment to $500 million over the five years to 2018-19.
The [National Road Safety] Action Plan [2015–17] calls for
governments to prioritise and treat high-risk rural and urban roads with the
assistance of analysis tools and also to assess risk on the roads carrying the
highest traffic volumes. These approaches focus on achieving strong safety
outcomes and benefit-cost ratios.
As the department states, the first action in the National Road Safety
Action Plan is to '[p]rioritise and treat high-risk rural and urban roads,
focusing on the main crash types and vulnerable road users'. The plan specifies
that spatial analysis tools including 'severe injury rate/cost heat maps'
should be used to determine areas of 'high collective risk'. By end-2017, the
plan anticipates that states and territories will have 'identified, prioritised
and commenced treating the top 10% of priority locations'.
While the department's submission and response mark the imbalance
in trauma outcomes for 'rural and urban roads', it does not clearly outline how
the government's committed infrastructure investment would address that
Some submitters expressed doubt that regional and remote areas would be
The committee has heard that upgrading the local road network would
reduce a large proportion of road deaths and injuries.
Ms Terri-Anne Pettet, Manager of the RoadWise Program at the Western Australian
Local Government Association (WALGA), explained that:
In Western Australia local governments are responsible for
128,000 kilometres, or 88 per cent, of the road network, where around
47 per cent of travel occurs. In 2012, 57 per cent of all the deaths and
serious injuries in Western Australia—1,520 people—occurred on the local road
network at a cost to the community of $1.5 billion.
Local government receives a share of the $3.2 billion allocated to local,
state and territory governments under the Roads to Recovery programme in the
financial years 2014–15 to 2018–19.
The Commonwealth Government announced on 23 June 2015 that
'[c]ouncils across Australia will receive an extra $1.105 billion over the next
two years', allocating funding by local government area.
In WALGA's view, the cost of upgrading infrastructure is difficult to
estimate because 'large parts of the ageing road network do not already meet
the current minimum standards', meaning that 'the effort and investment to
achieve safe roads and roadsides under the safe system approach is likely to be
a substantial underestimate'. The committee heard that among local governments
in Western Australia 'there was a clearly expressed need for additional funds,
staff and training in the practical application of the safe system approach'.
The committee was troubled to hear of 'a shortfall of up to $100 million a
year' just to maintain the Western Australian road network in its current
Black Spot Programme
Several submitters proposed that the Black Spot Programme funding and
methodology should be revisited to better address the condition of roads in
regional and remote areas. The programme provides funding for infrastructure
improvements in at-risk areas using cost-benefit analysis. To qualify as a
black spot, a location must have seen two 'casualty crashes' in five years, and
the project must be assessed as returning 'at least one dollar to the economy
for every dollar invested'.
A requirement limiting the number of projects per local government area was
removed 'to make it easier for regional areas to compete for additional
The department advised that half of the programme's funding is earmarked
for regional Australia:
The Government will also ensure that at least 50 per cent of
funding is dedicated to fixing sites in regional Australia, where more than 60
per cent of road deaths and 35 per cent of serious injuries occur.
The committee is concerned that this commitment refers to, but is not
directly in proportion to, the actual number of road deaths that occur in
regional and remote areas.
In the alternative, RAC proposed that road funding be allocated according to
the 'star rating' of roads, which would inevitably increase funding to regional
and remote roads.
It was put to the committee that the programme's methodology is
ill-suited to improving road safety in regional and remote areas, and should be
more flexible. Mr Iain Cameron, Chairman of the Austroads Safety Taskforce explained
that it is easier to identify black spots in major cities due to higher volumes
Traditionally what we have done is that, when there is an
awful pile of people who get killed or seriously injured at a particular spot,
we have called that a black spot and we have dealt with that. The problem is...on
long lengths of road, particularly country roads, we are chasing
lightning strikes. These crashes are distributed, volumes are very low and
we do not know exactly where the next one is going to occur.
The committee endorses the Austroads proposal that the definition of
black spots should consider the risks associated with longer lengths of road.
As discussed in Chapter 2, vehicle safety technology is improving. The
committee heard that unless roads are upgraded, Australians in regional and
remote areas will miss out on technological improvements.
As an example, Victoria Police explained that vehicles fitted with lane assist
technology would be of limited assistance outside of major cities, as:
Most of them at the moment will require a white line to set a
boundary for the lane assist to determine that it is leaving the lane. Most of
our roads in rural Victoria—we classify them as C roads—do not have that
capability. So we can put the best technology in the world on those roads but
people are still driving at 100 kilometres an hour on a gravel-edged road which
is tree lined.
RAC foreshadowed the possibility of a two-tier road safety system, in
which the new safety technologies available in major cities exceed those
available to residents of regional and remote Australia:
It is important to note that [intelligent transport systems
(ITS)] and the movement toward autonomous vehicles offer most promise in
infrastructure and vehicle–rich environments. The low density infrastructure
and vehicle environments of rural and remote WA may therefore gain relatively
fewer benefits. With this in mind it is critical to ensure that there is
appropriate investment and strategies in place to target rural and remote
populations. This should ensure that the disadvantaged communities in road
safety terms do not become further marginalised by a growing focus on ITS and autonomous
There is a marked and unacceptable difference in the quality of
infrastructure in major cities and in regional and remote areas. The committee
is strongly of the view that Australians' safety should not be compromised by living
outside of major cities.
A complete change or a one-size-fits-all approach to speed on regional
and remote roads was not supported by submitters to this committee. However,
the committee heard a clear view that governments should not allow road users
to drive faster than rapidly deteriorating road conditions allow.
The committee appreciates the department's advice that the government
has committed $50 billion to upgrading Australia's road infrastructure. The
committee emphasises the need for tailored solutions in regional and remote areas
that focus on road safety rather than driver convenience. The committee sees
merit in considering each road on a case-by-case basis. To this end, the
committee endorses the proposal for the Black Spot Programme to be adjusted to
place a greater emphasis on regional and remote roads. A funding model that
more accurately reflects the number of deaths and injuries will help close the
gap in road deaths between urban and regional and remote road areas.
The committee appreciates the advice provided by the Victoria Police
that, as a starting point, regional and remote roads should be upgraded to
include white lines and sealed verges, and draws this to the attention of the
Commonwealth's Black Spot Programme and state and local governments.
The committee recommends that Commonwealth Government increase funding
to the Black Spot Programme and increase the percentage allocated to regional
and remote areas.
The committee recommends that the definition of 'black spot' be revised
to account for the dispersed nature of accidents in regional and remote areas.
As well as in major cities, driver behaviour was identified as a key
contributor to accidents on regional and remote roads.
The department advised that high-risk behaviours including speeding,
failure to wear seatbelts and unlicensed driving are more common in regional
and remote areas.
Submitters suggested that what would be unacceptable in major cities is often
considered a condition for driving on regional and remote roads.
The committee heard debate about whether accidents on regional and
remote roads more frequently involved locals or visitors. MAC noted that in
South Australia there is a perception that the majority of persons killed outside
of major cities are visitors. To the contrary, South
Australia Police confirmed that '69 per cent are residing in the communities in
which they are dying or becoming seriously injured'.
The National Rural Health Alliance suggested that further analysis on this
question is required.
The committee heard that policing and road safety strategies, such as
random breath testing and speed cameras, may not be suited to regional and
remote areas. Victoria Police reported that they their effectiveness diminishes
outside major cities, illustrating that:
As soon as a booze bus turns up and starts setting up, the
grapevine advises everyone of its whereabouts—same with our automated
Likewise, speed cameras were not considered to be effective outside of
major cities due to their visibility from up to two kilometres
The committee recognises the enforcement and speed monitoring challenges
that particularly affect regional and remote areas, and the need for unique
deterrent measures. The committee sees merit in using point-to-point speed
cameras in those areas, particularly to minimise the impact of road trauma on
vulnerable road user groups.
The committee recommends that Commonwealth, state and territory
governments work with police agencies to increase the number of point-to-point
speed cameras in regional and remote areas.
Community awareness and education
Submitters emphasised the need for awareness campaigns to educate
drivers of the unique risks attached to roads in regional and remote areas. At
the outset, the committee was advised that such campaigns 'are notoriously difficult
to make effective',
although MAC has provided the committee with examples of their success.
Good road safety advertising can reduce up to 12 per cent of crashes,
according to analysis by MAC and Global Road Safety Solutions.
They have determined that advertising has at least three types of benefit:
Type 1: Influences behaviours directly. Examples may
include campaigns which enhance the effects of enforcement by increasing
general deterrence, and so changes behaviour.
Type 2: Influences behaviours via attitudes.
Type 3: Generates changes in attitude or belief which
allow more effective other actions such as reduced speed limits, reduced BAC
limits, increased enforcement or increased penalties, which will change
MAC's analysis is that the aim of influencing behaviour via attitude
(type 2) is the most commonly pursued and the most difficult in which to
Influencing behaviour directly (type 1) is considered most effective alongside
changes in legislation or enforcement, such as random breath testing and mobile
The effect of generating change (type 3) was described as lacking 'clear
evidence for direct behaviour change' but capable of increasing public
acceptance of measures such as speed limit reduction.
Insurance Australia Group recommended careful targeting of campaigns:
...there could be more targeted regional and rural specific
strategies and current road safety strategies. They are more global, more
broad, and I think there is room to have some specific rural and regional focus
because there are some different issues experienced by those people.
Particularly for regional and remote areas, the delivery of road
awareness education should include community engagement where possible.
This is an invaluable part of establishing a culture of responsible road use.
Mr Russell White, Chief Executive Officer of the National Road Safety
Foundation, theorised that:
...if you were to ask most people in the street who is
responsible for road safety, the answer you would get would be 'government' or
'police'. I do not think anyone would come up with the answer that as road
users we are the ones who are responsible.
The committee supports the endeavours of community-based driver
education programs and especially notes those designed for primary and secondary
MAC advised that 'there is clear evidence of attitude, knowledge, and belief
change from such programs'.
Road safety is included within a number of units in the Australian
Curriculum (for example, ACCPS018 'Being healthy, safe and active'). However,
its presence in the education of primary and secondary students could be
As Mr Russell White identified, road awareness should start much earlier
than obtaining a learner drivers' licence:
Clearly, well before someone even gets to the stage of
picking up the keys to a vehicle, we should be looking at what childhood or
school based programs could be integrated into a learning curriculum—especially
as these days fewer and fewer children are riding pushbikes to school.
Typically, a person's real experience of being on the road comes when they are
taking to the road with their 'L' plates on the first time.
The committee recommends a review of the Australian Curriculum to ensure
there is a strong emphasis on driver behaviour at primary and secondary school
level. The committee encourages a focus on 'human factors' including awareness
The committee recommends that the Australian Curriculum includes road
awareness training for both primary and secondary school students.
The committee is optimistic about the potential of adopting a 'lifelong
learning' approach to driver education. Mr Russell White identified that the
current driver education system perpetuates 'a belief that the moment you get
the driver's license that somehow the learning experience finishes', when in
fact 'it is the exact opposite; it is just where things start'.
He proposed incorporating incentives such as:
...creating a gold level of licence or a gold level of driver
who has committed to safety, who has done more training and is setting the
right sort of example on the road.
The committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government in the
2018–2020 National Road Safety Strategy Action Plan commit to the introduction
of accredited post‑licence driver education programs.
First aid education
As previously noted, the time between accidents and the arrival of
emergency services is greater in regional and remote areas.
St John Ambulance Australia reported that ambulance response times in regional
Victoria are 39 per cent longer than in metropolitan areas.
For this reason, the committee agrees with submitters on the need for
online or in‑person first aid training for learner drivers, and commends
St John Ambulance Australia for its innovative solution and dedication to
creating safer roads.
The committee understands that such schemes are currently operating in Europe.
While online courses are no substitute for hands-on training, the
committee agrees that they are the 'next best solution'.
St John Ambulance Australia explained that it already runs two web-based
First@Scene and Clicktosave...take approximately
half an hour to complete. They are really pitched at a basic level,
highlighting very basic concepts that can save a life. They are provided free
of charge to the public.
The committee considers that first aid training should be mandatory not
only for learner drivers but for drivers seeking to renew their licence. A 30‑minute
online training course would not appear to place a significant burden on new or
current drivers. However, it may significantly increase safety on Australia's
The committee recommends that Austroads work with state and territory
driver licensing authorities to introduce compulsory first aid training as
a condition of receiving a learner's permit or renewing a drivers licence.
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