Every year, more than 1,200 people are killed and 35,000 seriously injured on Australian roads. National Road Safety Week honours those we have lost and pledges to make the roads safer for everyone. But despite the growing size and significance of the event, the crash that sparked the yellow ribbon tradition is a sad and deeply personal story that summarises the dangers facing all who use the roads.
In February 2012, 23 year old Sarah Fraser was driving to Wagga Wagga to begin her University degree when her car broke down on the Hume Highway, just south of Mittagong.
She managed to come to a stop beside the road, but did so on a section of the Hume that had a breakdown lane only 1.5 metres wide – less than the width of a typical vehicle, and half the national standard. This meant that her car was protruding onto driving lanes hosting traffic moving at 100km/h and faster. Sarah called the NRMA and was attended by a patrol, who in turn called out a local tow-truck driver.
As the tow truck driver was hitching Sarah’s vehicle to his own, a truck driver approaching from behind, side-swiping the broken-down car and collided with the pair, killing them both instantly. It was later estimated in court that the truck driver must have been distracted for between 8 to 11 seconds, to have not seen the car and tow-truck from up to 300 metres away. Crash investigators deduced that the driver saw them at the last second and attempted to swerve away, but ploughed into Sarah's car.
Although the driver was found guilty of dangerous driving, the road was also at fault because it did not meet the standards required to allow sufficient room for vehicles to pull off the road safely. Had the breakdown lane been made to the Austroads standard, both Sarah and the tow truck driver would not have been left in the line of high speed traffic.
National Road Safety Week is always a sad time, but what makes the yellow ribbon commemoration especially hard to bear this year is the fact that in 2018, one person died almost every day on average on the state's roads - 354 lives were lost in total.
New South Wales's overall road toll fell by 35 in 2018, and the reduction was the biggest year-on-year drop in NSW since 2013 and is the second lowest road toll on record per 100,000 people. These figures show the importance of raising awareness and identifying initiatives that reduce the road toll and the impact it has on the community.
The NRMA supports National Road Safety Week and campaigns relentlessly for improvements in infrastructure, vehicles, regulation and driver behaviour. These include the hard-fought battle for a fully dual-carriageway Pacific Highway, our key role in the founding of ANCAP and our ongoing research and advocacy in diverse road safety fields including alcohol and drug testing, speed enforcement and driver education.