Penalties are needed but what about Road Safety?

New road rules and higher penalties are going to be introduced by most states in Australia this year. Naturally we support any measure that will increase road safety. But are these new rules going to increase safety, or are they just to increase revenue?

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

So what new rules are being brought in this year? Well, it depends which state.

In NSW major changes to the drink driving laws were introduced in May this year. The new rules impose an automatic three month license suspension and a fine of $561 for first time low range drink drivers, as well as first time offenders who are caught driving whilst on illicit drugs. We believe this is a good thing.

In the NT the fine for using a mobile phone while driving will increase from $250 to $500. A new fine of $500 will be introduced for using any device that has a screen while driving, as it can distract the driver. Another welcome change is for Motorcyclists: they will be allowed to lane filter through traffic travelling less than 30km/h. All of these are good measures.

In QLD a proposal to increase the fine for using a phone while driving has been considered at the Driver Distraction National Summitin Brisbane. The plan is to increase the fine for mobile phone use while driving to $1000. In addition, on 1st July there has been an increase in license fees, car registration fees, and the penalty unit for fines increases by 2.25 per cent making fines more expensive.

In Western Australia the Road Safety Council is proposing to reduce the speed limit by 10km/h across the board. This is bad and ugly!

In Victoria a proposed change for later this year will require interstate and overseas license holders to get a Victorian license within six months of relocating. Otherwise their license will be invalid.

We strongly believe any measure taken to decrease drivers’ distraction, such as using mobile phones while driving, is a great thing. However, most of the proposed changes will see the states’ revenue increasing from penalties and fees.

But what about road safety???

Proactive vs Reactive

Penalising drivers for traffic offences is a reactive measure. A “punishment”. And indeed, this is one way to “teach” motorists not to repeat their mistakes.

But a penalty is a reactive measure for a mistake that has already occurred. Wouldn’t it be better to teach drivers how to avoid the mistake in the first place?

Here is an example. Look at the driver in this dash cam video. How will penalising the driver will help the scooter rider?

Courtesy of Dashcam Owners Australia

We believe that a proactive approach can achieve more than the “punishments” can. Driver training, incentives for good drivers, investment in awareness campaigns, etc, will have a far better contribution to road safety than penalties.

A dramatic reduction in the cost of advanced driving and riding courses will see more drivers and riders taking these courses. We would even go as far as suggesting to make these courses free! I can testify from my own experience how important the advanced riding courses I took were. However, they were expensive and probably not at the top of the priority list for most.

Or how about the introduction of a combination? Lower penalties with mandatory driving courses for first and second time offenders?

Massive awareness campaigns can also contribute to road safety. “Look out for motorcycles” is an example. Another example is in the brilliant new video for learners drivers in the UK, designed to improve motorcyclist awareness:

UK video to help learner drivers improve motorcyclist awareness

Incentives are another way to achieve road safety. Reduction in vehicle registration costs and significant reduction in insurance fees are two things that come to mind. Government intervention will no doubt be required as we cannot see how the profit-driven insurance companies will ever agree to reduce their high profits.

Another measure, an extreme measure, which will no doubt will be very unpopular (and unfortunately will never get approved) but will take bad drivers off the road, is to force drivers to take a computerised knowledge test every 5 years and a driving test (!) every 10 years. Yes, it will be unpopular, however, it will take thousands of bad drivers off our roads, making our roads safer. And these tests will need to be accessible in country areas as well.

We are aware that all these measures will cost and will require budgets. But we often hear about the high cost of road accidents to the states and the community; about the millions of dollars it costs us every year. Police resources, the court system, the medical system, families, insurance companies, they all have to pay a very high price for dealing with road accidents, injuries and deaths. We argue that a proactive approach and an investment in avoiding road accidents can save lives and yield a massive cost reduction in the future.

What do you think?