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The high cost of road accidents

While protecting lives is the first priority of road-safety campaigns, we should also note the financial cost of traffic accidents.

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  • Finance
  • Read Time: 4 mins

Road deaths have significantly reduced since 1970, when a record 3,708 Australians died in accidents. Yet we still see more than 1,000 deaths each year, which an unacceptably high number by any reckoning.

The cost in human terms can never be recouped for the families and friends of those who died, but there is another cost that affects us all.

According to a Monash University study, road accidents cost the national economy nearly $30 billion a year. This takes into account expenses to the government through immediate health and emergency services, plus ongoing financial support for accident victims and foregone taxation revenue from those who die or suffer disabilities in accidents.

The numbers

Nationally, the number of road fatalities is trending lower, albeit with a few bumps.

The Bureau of Infrastructure and Transport Research Economics (BITRE) notes in its Road Trauma Australia 2020 Statistical Report that, over the decade to 2020, fatalities decreased from about 1,300 per year to 1,100 per year.

The trend was not consistent, but the total reduction amounted to 13.4%. The years 2012 and 2016 saw peaks, and 2014 and 2020 saw lows. The rate of annual fatalities per 100,000 population declined by a total of 24.7 % over the decade, with all states and territories registering reductions.

COVID-19 may have played a role in the 2020 results. With lockdowns and other measures leading to a 22% drop in the number of vehicle-kilometres travelled in the second quarter of that year, fatalities declined by 14%. However, both the number of kilometres travelled and the number of deaths returned to historic trend levels in the third and fourth quarters of the year.

What is being done?

According to an International Transport Forum (ITF) report in 2021, the implementation of intensive speed compliance measures, the progressive introduction of graduated licencing restrictions, targeted safety investment in road infrastructure, and continuous vehicle safety improvements have played a part in lowering Australia’s road fatalities and injuries.

The National Road Safety Strategy, launched in December 2021, sets out Australia’s objectives over the next decade, including a target to reduce the annual number of fatalities by at least 50% and serious injuries by at least 30% by 2030. 

Areas of concern are illustrated by the statistics for 2021, when there were 1,115 road fatalities across Australia: 

  • Far more men (846) than women (269) died in vehicle accidents. 

  • More than half of road deaths occurred in non-urban areas. 

  • Most fatalities involved passenger vehicles, with 357 drivers and 142 passengers dying. 

  • Pedestrians accounted for 133 deaths. 

  • Almost one-third of fatalities (376) were people aged 40 to 64. 

  • Among road deaths, 106 were aged 65 to 74 and 139 were over 75. 

The ITF notes in its 2021 report that most Australian jurisdictions have taken steps to strengthen speed enforcement programs, particularly through increased use of mobile and fixed cameras. 

“In recent years, several jurisdictions have introduced, or planned to introduce, point-to-point camera systems to measure average speed, though generally only a modest scale,” the report says.

What can individuals do?

We all can play a part in reducing the road toll by following the rules and showing courtesy and patience while driving. 

Tips include: 

  • Always wear your seatbelt and make sure all passengers do the same.

  • Observe speed limits and adjust your speed to suit the road conditions.

  • Avoid distractions such as texting or eating while driving.

  • Never drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

  • Keep a safe distance from the vehicle in front of you.

  • Check your vehicle regularly for any issues that may affect safety, such as worn brakes or tyres.

  • Stay focused and alert while driving and take regular breaks on long journeys to avoid fatigue.

  • Ensure you have the appropriate amount of car insurance.

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