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Australian road toll climbs once more

4.3pc increase in annual road fatalities leaves AAA asking for improved reporting

6 Jun 2023

DATA published by the Bureau of Infrastructure and Transport Research Economics (BITRE) shows 1204 people have died on Australian roads in the 12 months to 30 April 2023.


That number represents a tragic 50 deaths more than in the previous corresponding 12-month period, or a 4.3 per cent increase in statistical terms.


According to BITRE data, road death figures rose in every jurisdiction except the Northern Territory and Tasmania.


The Australian Automobile Association (AAA) says the upward trend in road deaths comes “after years of a declining road toll”. It argues that had the National Road Safety Strategy agreed to by the federal government been “on track” that a reduction in the road toll would now be seen, suggesting the number for the 2022-23 period should have been 1006 deaths – 198 fewer.


“A lack of road trauma data reporting makes it difficult to understand the reasons for the rise in road deaths over the past five years,” said AAA managing director Michael Bradley.


“We need much better reporting of relevant data so we can identify the causes of current fatalities and implement measures to prevent future death and trauma.”


Mr Bradley said three key National Road Safety Strategy (NRSS) targets cannot be measured because governments have not yet developed a national data system that can quantify serious injuries or identify crash rates on different types of roads.


According to the AAA, road transport agencies have said that developing a national road safety data system is a priority issue, yet state and territory governments still do not report the information needed to enable the NRSS to deliver its targets.


The AAA said it wants the federal government to make its transport funding to states and territories conditional on greater transparency of state-held road crash data but notes the 2023-24 federal budget did not impose any accountability obligations.


“But it appears that no action will be taken before the end of 2024 and it’s still not clear whether any new data that is collected will be made public,” said Mr Bradley.


“Given the information currently available, the AAA is concerned that this initiative will take too long to achieve at a time when road deaths continue to increase. Every one of these deaths is a tragedy, and Australian motorists are right to expect a more urgent, data-driven response to this serious problem.”



Beyond the rhetoric and data, the true causes of Australia’s road death toll are largely ignored: apathy and improper training.


Most Australian roads and the vehicles travelling upon them are safer than they have been at any time in the past. Crash barriers, lane markings, reflective signage, high-visibility LED traffic signals, lower speed limits and improved surfacing should serve to reduce the number of crashes.


Likewise, the implementation of vehicle collision avoidance technology coupled with improved tyre and braking performance, safer body structures and electronic stability and traction aids are meant to help drive the road toll down, and not send it in the opposite direction.


Unfortunately, Australian driver licensing requirements are notoriously weak. New drivers are taught simply to pass a test and are offered little or no training in vehicle operation, traffic dynamics, spatial awareness, or the complexity of road rules.


This is compounded by the fact consecutive governments, road safety bodies and state and territory police forces focus single-mindedly on just one element of traffic law enforcement: speed.


Enforcement by robotic cameras and roadside speed traps does nothing to address the almost absolute apathy toward sharing the road in Australia, not to mention the level of distraction, substandard vehicle roadworthiness, neglected road and drainage maintenance programs, drivers affected by legal and illegal narcotics and alcohol, or disqualified and unlicensed drivers.


While dangerous over-speeding is no doubt a contributor to the growing road toll, it receives disproportionate focus compared to factors that remain largely in the periphery of the powers that be due to being more resource-intensive to enforce, and likely undermines the relevance of other important road rules in the minds of some drivers.


It may be a well-used argument, but it pays to compare Australia’s laissez-faire attitude to driver training and road safety with Germany – arguably a world-leader in its approach to the matter.


Germany requires new drivers to undertake a minimum of 45 hours’ training with a professional instructor (not simply a parent or guardian), 12 hours of theory, pass a first-aid course, and then charges over $2000 for the privilege of holding a licence.

In the 2022 calendar year, Germany – a country with a population of 83.1 million people that famously has no speed limit on parts of its Autobahn network – recorded 2782 road traffic fatalities and Britain recorded 1558 road deaths against a population of 63.8 million.


Australia currently has a population of 25.7 million and recorded 1204 road traffic fatalities over the corresponding timeline.


Britain also sets a higher standard in licence testing and vehicle safety than Australia. Annual Ministry of Transport tests (far stricter than the annual ‘blue slip’ inspection program currently in place in New South Wales, for example) require that a vehicle pass road safety and environmental checks before use on public roads.


Like Australia, the testing regime for a British driver’s licence comprises theory, hazard perception and a driving examination. However, the standard of theoretical and practical assessment is more stringent than it is here, which is again representative when viewed through the lens of the annual road toll.


Driving in both Britain and Germany also reveals a driving culture that, compared to Australia, embraces lane discipline and common-sense approach to traffic merging that can make returning to Australian roads a jarring and almost combative experience.


Per-capita road toll figures indicate that Australia has a serious problem with road safety when measured against countries with comparable vehicle modernity and road network quality.


While we do not pretend to have all the answers, a thorough overhaul of the standards to which new drivers are tested, the increased policing of all road rules (not just those which are detected by camera), and a far greater focus on road and vehicle condition are vital elements in reducing the number of Australians killed on our roads.



Australian road toll (April 2022 – April 2023):





Australian Capital Territory



New South Wales



Northern Territory






South Australia









Western Australia



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