Smart road to safety

Professor Mark Stevenson

Professor Mark Stevenson

by Professor Mark Stevenson

The numbers were down from the 1061 killed in road accidents in Victoria in 1970.

That same year compulsory seat-belt wearing was introduced for drivers and front-seat passengers.

It was a watershed decision that saw a steep decline in road deaths.

To reduce deaths on Victorian roads to effectively 20 per cent of what it was 40 years ago has been a massive achievement.

But we can’t stop here.

With speed cameras and greater policing for alcohol and drug use by drivers already in place and working well, we must now turn our attention to further reducing these deaths.

Importantly, we must focus on reducing the numbers of serious injuries related to road crashes, which are increasing.

There are two areas where the State Government can act to save Victorians being injured and killed on our roads: better road infrastructure and the adoption of new technologies.

Last year the RACV called for a major revamp of road and public transport funding after what it says was 10 years of neglect in outer Melbourne.

Although this was necessary, what it highlighted was nothing new.

We exist in a motorised world where road traffic accidents kill 1.2 million people globally each year and seriously injure up to 50 million, according the World Health Organisation.

The next few decades are crucial in how we manage the building of road infrastructure in developed and developing countries and how we make these roads safe.

Melbourne, like most major cities worldwide, is growing rapidly, expecting to boom from 4.1 million people to 6.8 million people by 2056. This will have enormous impacts on our traffic system, road safety and health.

There is a growing funding gap between the money earned from the fuel excise, registration and licensing and the amount needed to adequately fund the infrastructure needed to cope with population growth.

This deficit is compounded by the economic impact of road congestion in Melbourne, which is estimated to cost the community about $2.7 billion a year.

Our cities are becoming more populated and our roads are destined to become more congested. We need better infrastructure, but that infrastructure also needs to be smarter.

The answer is investing in intelligent transport systems.

The innovations in this field are very excitingtechnology that enables vehicles on the road to communicate with one another and with road infrastructure, largely via dedicated short-range communications. Its primary application is aimed at avoiding collisions.

In effect, it enables vehicles to see around corners’’, over hills and beyond visual obstructions to know all about the movements of surrounding traffic.

This technology is not limited to the testing laboratory. It has already been extensively tested overseas and is on the roadmap for car manufacturers and road agencies.

Australia already has an industry cluster seeking to secure the spectrum for DSRC, with the 5.9GHzradio frequency being considered for ITS communications.

If we are serious about upgrading our road infrastructure we need to be smart about it. It is so much more than building overpasses at railway crossings or providing better public transport options in our outer suburbs.

This century, the focus should be on building a system where cars talk to other cars and to the road system itself, where traffic is managed to keep it moving,CO2 emissions are reduced and public transport enhanced.

This technology has the power to limit accidents and deaths that will inevitably rise as the number of people and cars in Melbourne increases.

Governments must consider these opportunities for safety and efficiency into the future.

Professor Mark Stevenson is the Director of the Monash University Accident Research Centre.

This article originally appeared in the Herald Sun.