By Michael Giles
DESPITE the commitment by the State Government and the Transport Accident Commission to the commendable aims of the ‘Towards Zero’ road safety campaign, we’re actually going backwards in 2016.
As at Monday this week, the road toll for the year was already up over 200, at 206 fatalities compared to 176 last year.
And it’s not just a blip. Something is seriously wrong when you consider that it’s the highest year-to-date figure for the past six years; compared with 197 for this time in 2011, 181 (2012), 156 (2013), 169 (2014) and 176 (2015).
So what has changed since then?
Two things that we know of; the change in policy to two-up policing where highway patrol officers can no longer go out on patrol solo in a car or on a motorbike.
The Police Association Victoria said last week that highway patrols in the state had dropped by almost 30 per cent since the two-up policy was brought into force.
The impact of this has been especially felt in country areas where visibility of police cars on the road is down dramatically.
You can say what you like, but seeing police cars on the roads definitely slows people down, makes them get off their devices and brings their behaviour into line.
Fewer police on the road equals more deaths, no doubt about it.
The other thing that we know has changed is the road safety message, its engagement with the community and the commitment by the government in funding to get the message out there.
State Opposition MPs are now openly questioning whether or not the Towards Zero message is getting through. Is it getting through?
Premier Daniel Andrews came out last week and backed the ban on highway patrol officers working solo. You’d expect him to hold the line on that but the truth is it is killing Victorian drivers and motorcycle riders.
The two-up policing policy was brought in as a response to perceived threats for police from terrorism however while they’re protecting the police, they’re putting our drivers and citizens in danger.
The Premier must rethink this ill-conceived policy change and be prepared to relax its impact in country areas in particular, until more cops can be put on the beat and out on patrol, notwithstanding the $12 million he committed to 1000 additional police shifts last week.
There should also be a public assessment of the effectiveness of the Towards Zero campaign and, if necessary, make a return to the campaigns that were bringing down the road toll before.
In the meantime, it’s up to every driver to adjust their behaviours and we could start by making a pledge not to touch our smart (dumb?) phones while driving.