When roads become war zones
December 16, 2007, 11:19 am
Filed under: cars | Tags: , , , , ,

Our roads are a battlefield and the enemy is us. Each pathetic white cross we pass on the side of a highway is a reminder of another life wasted, another family blighted. And, too often, it’s lives and families, plural. As we saw when four young men died horrifying deaths in an inferno on the Geelong freeway last week, too often a driver takes others. Especially young males, bonded by a fatal attraction to speed.


Time was when this state was brave enough to lead the world in introducing laws that saved lives. It is easy to forget how much scepticism and criticism there was in the 1970s about introducing “newfangled” seatbelts, “tough” .05 blood alcohol laws and strict speed limits. Powerful, mass-production vehicles were being sold to increasingly younger drivers, a generation enjoying the prosperity of a new and permissive age after austere post-war years their parents had endured. The result: more people than ever before were driving faster – and with little chance of being prosecuted for drink driving. And they, and their passengers, did not wear seat belts until they became mandatory in 1970 in Victoria. It meant that the road toll resembled a war casualty list: thousands were killed and injured. In fact, far more Australians of military service age died on our roads during the Vietnam war than on active service. It is to the credit of a small group of far-seeing politicians, academics and police surgeons that they found the will and the way to impose initially unpopular changes for the greater good. Thousands of Australian lives were saved because policy makers had the guts to act. Since the 1970s, car ownership has exploded but road fatalities have been cut by two-thirds. But we cannot afford to be complacent. There are still hundreds of road deaths a year in Victoria – and some disturbing trends. As shown in stories we print today, young drivers still kill themselves – and their friends – in disproportionate numbers, truck drivers are taking bizarre risks to “beat” speed limits, and our overloaded urban road system is on the verge of gridlock, if not collapse.

What we need are leaders with the nerve to risk short-term unpopularity – and expense – for long-term benefit. But what we get when they are pressed on tackling the monumental waste of life, money and time on the roads is an outbreak of humbug, jargon and apathy. No one fancies taking the political risk of standing against P-plate havoc by declaring that probationary drivers should drive solo before being allowed to risk passengers’ lives. Overseas studies and experience show what common sense tells us already: that teenage drivers are more likely to indulge in risky behaviour at the wheel when they have passengers. It’s called distraction – and showing off.

As for truck drivers who turn off the lights on their massive rigs at full speed to avoid point-to-point speed cameras, there is also a common-sense response: ban them from driving for years, or life. One alternative is prison for manslaughter.




1 Comment so far
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I agree…In Austin, TX there are a lot of white crosses. It is a shame because their are so many cyclist out there.

When i was in San Diego it was better for bikes, but still not safe in some areas.

I recently read in a NY post that Portland is leading the way in protecting guys on bikes and they went one step further…

Comment by Phillip Longmire

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