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Government considers more safety legislation

Belt up: Seatbelt reminders will be mandatory from July 2013 due to a disturbing number of road deaths involving unrestrained occupants.

Federal legislators consider making more safety tech mandatory as road toll declines

3 Jul 2012

THE Australian government is considering making more vehicle safety technology mandatory in new vehicles after reporting a reduction in the death rate of young drivers and riders in the past year.

Road deaths among drivers and motorcyclists aged 17 to 25 in Australia have declined 21 per cent since the Australian Transport Council’s National Road Safety Strategy (NRSS) 2011-2020 was introduced a year ago, according to government figures.

A 9.5 per cent decline in total road deaths has also been recorded against the strategy’s base line.

Delivering the first annual NRSS update to parliament last week, parliamentary secretary for infrastructure and transport Catherine King said that, in addition to the seatbelt reminders that will become compulsory for all passenger cars, passenger vans and SUVs from July 2013, the government will evaluate making further technologies mandatory.

Mandatory electronic stability control for light commercial vehicles, brake-assist for passenger cars and anti-lock brakes for motorcycles are among the moves under consideration.

Heavy trucks and buses account for three per cent of all vehicle registrations but are involved in 18 per cent of road fatalities – about 250 per year – prompting the government to consider making mandatory ABS, lane-departure warning and advance emergency braking.

“Even at this early stage, the report shows that a considerable amount of activity is in progress,” said Ms King.

80 center imageLeft: Federal parliamentary secretary for infrastructure and transport Catherine King.

“Action is well underway to develop and implement improved safety standards for new vehicles.”

Last year’s NRSS document reports that 28 per cent of vehicle occupant fatalities were not wearing seatbelts – matching the number that were over the legal drink driving limit – prompting the move to mandate seatbelt reminders.

The ambitious NRSS is guided by the vision that “no person should be killed or seriously injured on Australia’s roads”, focussing on safer roads, speeds, vehicles and people.

In 2011, 1291 people died on Australia’s roads – a vast improvement on the figure of 3800 in 1970 – with a further 30,000 hospitalised due to road crashes.

Australia’s annual road toll is estimated to cost the economy $27 billion, around the same as the federal defence budget, and Safe Work Australia says vehicles are involved in a third of compensable work-related deaths.

Ms King said NRSS projects scheduled for completion over the next two years include improvements to road design and speed limit guidelines, best practice approaches to speed enforcement, increased use of alcohol interlocks for drink driving offenders, measures to reduce unlicenced driving and better licencing resources to support indigenous people.

Illegal and inappropriate speed is attributed to 34 per cent of road deaths, and Ms King said she was pleased that all states and territories had “taken steps to strengthen their drink driving and speed enforcement programs”.

“In most jurisdictions, this includes the introduction of, or plans to introduce, point-to-point speed camera systems in a concerted effort to improve safety on major traffic routes.”

Ms King said Australia is also leading a United Nations working group to develop an international vehicle regulation for pole side impact safety.

“We are aiming for UN agreement of the regulation next year and will then be in a position to implement the new standard in Australia,” she said.

“I particularly acknowledge the international leadership and pioneering research of the Department in this initiative and the support from Australian industry.”

The NHSS report acknowledges the human error element in road crashes and how the design of roads and vehicles can help mitigate mistakes made by road users.

Crash testing authority ANCAP believes high-tech safety aids will contribute to a large drop in the road toll as systems such as radar-based collision avoidance, lane-departure warning and blind-spot monitoring can help correct human errors.

The organisation’s focus on encouraging vehicle manufacturers to include such systems stems from the fact that advances in technology can happen more quickly than changes to driver behaviour and infrastructure improvements.

A year ago the Australian government stipulated that all its new passenger vehicle purchases must be five-star rated and an increasing number of vehicle fleet operators are doing the same.

The most recent was mining giant BHP Billiton, which purchases large numbers of light commercial vehicles, a market segment that lags behind passenger cars in terms of safety, with few vehicles achieving the maximum five stars.

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