March 8, 2013  |  Matter of Public Importance

Road safety: government initiatives

It is my pleasure to rise to make a contribution to
the debate on this matter of public importance concerning Victoria’s road
safety and in particular the government’s road safety strategy 2013-22. All
members present would be aware that Victoria has led the way when it comes to
road safety. We made seatbelts mandatory in the 1970s, introduced random breath
testing in 1976 and speed cameras in 1985, and we made infrastructure and other
improvements, including the statewide black spot program and the Transport
Accident Commission (TAC) Safer Roads Infrastructure program.

The main thesis of my contribution on this matter
of public importance is the value of seatbelts. Many members will be aware that
back in 2010 under the Brumby government we celebrated 40 years since the
introduction of seatbelts. What grabbed me during that campaign was an Age
newspaper article by Samantha Lane which talked about the vice-president of the
Essendon Football Club, David Hille, and his experience 15 years ago. I have
the article with me.

At the time David Hille was one of eight year 11
students who loaded into a car on Frankston’s Bangalay Avenue on a Saturday
night with a 17-year-old unlicensed driver at the wheel. David Hille
miraculously walked away from the wreckage unscathed; however, three of his
classmates died at the scene of the accident. They were in a 1988 Nissan
Skyline station wagon which split in half around a tree. The group had
skateboards and basketballs in the car. They were mates going on a journey, but
within 60 seconds of getting into the motor vehicle their lives were affected
forever, and some families were destroyed.

What struck me when I was reading this article by
Samantha Lane were some of the comments of David Hille’s as he reflected on
that accident 15 years ago. The article quotes him as saying:

I remember bits and pieces of the accident, but
more than anything I remember the smell …

There’s something in a fluid or something in a
metal when it’s burning that is distinctive.

 

They say a lot of what people experience is related
to their senses but because I was traumatised I didn’t have a lot of my other
senses. So smell is just something that can’t be altered by such an experience
as much as what your other senses are …

 

I was basically hysterical, and even to this day I
don’t quite know how I got out of the car …

 

But I can remember screaming. Screaming. And
people, neighbours, from the surrounding houses, came out and helped us …

 

I remember talking to a police officer, I can’t
even remember if it was a male or female, but they said to me, ‘Do you
understand the gravity of this situation?’.

 

David Hille was affected forever by that fatal
accident in which three of his best friends passed away. The Essendon Football
Club, to its credit, got behind the seatbelt campaign. Essendon fans in the
house will remember that as a one-off when the club got permission from the AFL
for its players to wear for one game jumpers whose sashes were seatbelts.

Let us remember the key statistics. Around 280
people a year, or more than one in five people a week, die on our roads. Every
day 15 people are seriously injured, changing their lives and the lives of
their families forever.

According to the Guide to Project Evaluation Part 4
— Project Evaluation Data prepared by Austroads, the association of Australian
and New Zealand Road Transport and Traffic Authorities, road trauma costs
Victoria over $3 billion a year. That is a massive amount of money by anyone’s
standards. But over the years, through the successive introduction of seatbelt
laws, random breath testing and increased black spot funding, Victoria has
almost halved the number of serious injuries since 1987 from 10 000 down to
about 5500. Powerful advertising over the past 18 years, mainly sponsored by
the Transport Accident Commission, containing graphic images and footage
illustrating the serious trauma associated with road accidents, deserve a lot
of credit for that.

I give some credit to Victoria’s road safety
strategy for the real-life examples that are included in it. The central
message of the TAC campaigns and all road trauma advertising is that anyone can
imagine a loved one in a vehicle and a police officer knocking on the door late
in the evening or parents getting a phone call in the middle of the night. The
strategy document includes the story of Simon Van Beest, which reads:

When Simon Van Beest was just eight his life
changed forever. He survived a car crash but with a serious brain injury and
partial paralysis.

 

He had to relearn all the basic life skills
starting with simple things like how to swallow, crawl, stand, and then on to
walking, talking and dressing himself.

 

It took years, and it radically changed not only
his life but the lives of those closest to him.

 

Now at 33 he can live independently with support
and is part of the community, but it isn’t the life he or his family thought he
would live.

 

One of the centrepieces of the government’s
strategy is the billion-dollar Safer Roads Infrastructure Program. We heard the
Shadow Minister for Roads, the member for Narre-Warren North, talk about some
of the cuts to road funding and question whether this $1 billion can be
delivered. As the member for Niddrie I certainly hope it is delivered over the
next 10 years; it needs to be delivered. I have written to the Minister for
Roads, who is also the Minister for Public Transport, on several occasions on
behalf of my electorate, and I have a couple of examples from my electorate I
would like to highlight.

Valley Lake, the old Niddrie quarry estate, will
have 1500 residents by the end of next year. The estate was purpose built to be
serviced by buses, but no bus service has been funded.

The strategy rightly highlights the population
growth that Victoria is experiencing, and with population growth come more
people on our roads. We need to make sure that our outer suburbs, our newest
communities, have the appropriate roads and the appropriate safety measures.

Another example I have written to the Minister
about is Fullarton Road in Airport West. There is a bus stop there that would
not even meet VicRoads’ own guidelines, which the organisation produced in
2006. It is a bus stop that the Bus Association of Victoria itself says should
not have happened. It is a bus stop which the local school principals tell
their students not to use because it has no connecting footpath and is
completely unsafe.

However, if this money can be delivered, with
bipartisan support we can go some way towards reducing not only the road toll
but the number of families affected by serious injuries.

I support this strategy. I think it is welcome on a
bipartisan basis.

Going right back to the 1970s we have seen both
sides of this house contribute to the road safety message. Random breath tests,
compulsory wearing of seatbelts and black spot funding all contribute to road
safety, and they all need support. I welcome the strategy. Over the next decade
I hope to see its implementation and see us continuing to build on results, in
particular, by reducing serious injuries and halving the road toll.