Spotlight on regional road safety

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It might surprise some of our members to learn that more people die on regional roads in NSW and the ACT than in their major cities. Lets examine why and discuss what drivers can do to make regional roads safer.

In the seven-year period from 2015–2021, more road fatalities were recorded in regional NSW and ACT than in their major cities, despite these regional areas accounting for only 33.8 per cent of their population (at the 2016 census). Of the 2374 total road deaths recorded during this time, 1482 – or 62 per cent – took place in ‘regional’ NSW and ACT, which includes ‘inner regional’, ‘outer regional’, ‘remote’ and ’very remote’ area distinctions.

Regional roads are more deadly, but why?

Crashes on regional roads are more likely to be deadly than urban areas for one main reason: they have higher average speed limits.

The likelihood of an accident becoming fatal increases with speed, which is why urban areas tend to have more incidents occasioning injury (but not death) while crashes resulting in death are over represented in regional areas.

On top of this, regional roads are more likely to have little to no street lighting, undulating and blind corners, fewer road safety treatments (such as crash barricades), wildlife and poorer road quality.

Road death statistics - NSW - 21

Data collected from the Australian Government Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications, and the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

What crash data tells us is that as a road become more remote, its fatality rate increases. This increase becomes even more pronounced when adjusted for deaths per capita, with outer regional NSW experiencing about eight times as many deadly accidents as the states' major cities.

What have the last two years taught us about the dangers of driving on regional roads?

Aggregate road deaths in NSW by Remoteness Index

The 2015–2021 period is an interesting one statistically. Mobility patterns were significantly altered during 2020 and 2021 due to COVID lockdowns, floods and fires, and as a result, 2020 and 2021 were relatively safe years by historical road safety standards. Early data from 2022 is showing that the easing of COVID lockdowns has seen a return to fatality trends more comparable to 2015-2019.

In 2020, overall deaths fell 20 per cent year-on-year from from 353 to 284, with regional areas falling 25 per cent and major cities falling 9 per cent. In 2021, overall deaths continued the downward trend falling 5 per cent year-on-year from 284 to 271. However, regional areas saw an 11 per cent increase in road deaths while major cities saw a 27 per cent decrease.

Remote and very remote are very lumpy because of the population of these areas. One fatality in a remote area represents a far greater proportion of the population compared to the cities.

What to keep an eye out for on our regional roads 

Adjusted for population, the road death toll is about 4-5 times worse in regional areas compared to urban areas. Whether you are a local driver or planning a road trip, you need to be aware of the dangers of driving on regional roads. 

Obey speed limits and look out for signs 

Observe speed signs including speed advisories on corners. Road conditions deteriorate and vary greatly away from the freeways, with many testing the limits of a vehicle’s suspension set-up and road-holding ability. If you don’t know what’s ahead, reducing your speed is a smart move.

Wildlife

Our wildlife – most often kangaroos and wombats – need special consideration. Driving in the early morning and at dusk requires extra vigilance, as many animals graze by the roadside where the grass can be greener due to rain runoff. 

Don’t assume a kangaroo will jump away from an oncoming vehicle. They are highly unpredictable and oncoming lights can overwhelm them so they move only at the last instant or not at all. If you spot one and it’s safe to do so, slow your speed, flash your lights and use your horn. Swerving to avoid an animal on secondary roads increases your chances of running off the bitumen onto the soft edges, making the vehicle harder to control.

Be mindful of headlights 

Oncoming headlights, particularly high beam, can dazzle drivers at night. If this happens, lower your eyes and look to the side of your lane rather than straight ahead. It’s something I learned when I first obtained my licence that has stayed with me ever since. Conversely, be considerate to other road users and drop from high beam to low as soon as it’s safe to do so.

Take a break 

This one is chiefly for road-trippers but also applies to locals driving long distances. Due to your body’s circadian rhythms, driving between 10pm and 6am means you’re up to four times more likely to suffer fatigue than during daylight hours. Many vehicles are fitted with alerts that can be set for two-hour intervals. Drivers should heed the warnings and stop and stretch their legs for a few minutes

Make sure your car is good-to-go 

Make sure your vehicle is regularly serviced and correctly inflate the tyres (including the spare) for the additional load. Clean the windscreen inside and out, check the wipers and washers, and make sure the headlamps and high beam are working. 

Why do road trips matter to your business?

Has your business been impacted by extreme weather or lack of tourism?