Today Australia’s Traffic Regulations Are Costing 1000’s of Lives!

Did you know that our Australian Road design regulations and safety standards kill around 1600 people and seriously injure another 22,000 every year, and while the road toll was much higher 30 years ago it has plateaued and is costing a fortune in loss of life, medical and hospital costs and associated grief and trauma counseling.

There is nothing wrong with making mistakes … in fact it is one of the best way to learn, but when we keep making the same mistakes, getting the same result and are not making effective corrections then I would ask the question “what is stopping us making changes?”

What is stopping us making the necessary changes?

We live in ‘engineered environments or domains’, whether you are on land, in or on the water or in the sky, there are serious and sometimes lethal outcomes if you do not comply with the design principles of that environment.

I believe a case could now be put for gross negligence if the responsible parties do not engineer for ‘known’ hazards or risks.

We are living in the ‘twenty first century’, decades after we successfully designed a vehicle to send humans out into space and bring them back to earth safely, which we did very successfully.

It is astounding and almost unbelievable that we have not invested a similar interest in saving thousands of ordinary people’s lives. Only idiots or the ignorant would expect that speed cameras could prevent accidents or save people’s lives.

As a past chairperson of the Road Safety subcommittee of the Risk Engineering Branch of the Institution of Engineers Australia it was obvious to me that no one was looking at the road system as a “whole system”.

Rather there are separate departments or elements looking after one component each of the system, rather than looking at the ‘system’ as a whole.

Fifteen years ago I addressed an Institution of Engineers Australia meeting of road and transport engineers and opened my address by saying “We have designed a transport system that kills 2000 people a year and seriously injures thousands more.” Many of the audience squirmed a little in their seats but that is the situation today and it shouldn’t be.

Australian race car driver Mark Weber recently crashed his Formula1 race car at 300kph and walked away, because of the design integrity of the vehicle he was in and the surrounding environment or roadway and crash barriers. One death on a race track costs a lot of money when you consider the bad PR, the inquiry and the necessary modifications to prevent it happening again.

Enormous improvements have been made over recent years by the automotive designers and their companies, however I propose the road system itself is decades away from being at an acceptable level.

Less than 5 mins from landing to driving away.

During my term as Chairman of the Road Safety sub-committee for the Risk Engineering Branch, Institution of Engineers Australia I chaired a public forum on “Future Travel” with speakers from the road authorities, car manufacturers and even an aircraft designer who proposed flying cars (now being registered in the United States) as a viable, and preferable solution to road transport.

Perhaps he was right.

There were also many innovative ‘systems’ shown, including one that Mitsubishi Motors were trialling that prevented a car from going off the road, and another that as soon as the car detected the driver was losing attention the car applied the brakes and pulled over.

Sounds a bit ‘far fetched’? It isn’t actually because we’ve had the technology for years now and the cost of installing the required computerized control systems is getting even less everyday! Back 15 years ago a motor industry representative at the public forum in Melbourne said that the use of computerized control systems to prevent accidents is the most cost effective solution to reducing road accidents.

The savings in lives saved and property damage are massive.

The lag time between something being possible and then being accepted under our current competitive context (our economies often determine what we are willing to allow, rather than how preferable the option is) can be many years …¬† and some viable solutions have evidently been ‘moth balled’ or put on the shelf.

That is where R Buckminster Fuller was able to produce ‘break through design’ after break through design.

Take his Dimaxion House for instance which the US Government commissioned him to build after the second world war to help with the housing shortage and help to provide alternative employment for those employed in the war effort.

The house was designed so that it was hurricane proofed, flood proofed and intruder proofed, and 3600 orders came in overnight when it was first advertised, but its development was stopped by economic ‘bullying’ from two powerful unions, the plumbers and gas fitters union and electrical trades union who refused to connect the ‘mass produced’ fully shop assembled houses unless they could remove all the plumbing and electrical wiring and re-install it.

The completed houses were being helicopter delivered to the residential block of land, with a central service core and foundation poured that then only required connection. The cost of one of these houses was about the same as an average motor vehicle and was fully recyclable. The year was 1946.

Are we actually learning anything, or is greed and selfishness still controlling the options you have and costing thousands and thousands of lives?

Then  there is the Dimaxion omni-vehicle built in 1933 that Buckminster Fuller intended would eventually travel on land, sea and in the air. Three proto-types were built to test the ground taxi-ing capabilities.

Although the omni-vehicle didn’t go into commercial production many lessons were learned from it. However it was still termed a “failure” because it didn’t make money.

Given that a value of around $2million is put on a human life (loss of productive life) try estimating the losses from the current road transport system with thousands of lives lost and massive property damage occurring each year in the developed world and many times that in developing countries like India.

What options do we have?

First understand that it is possible to have a road system that serves all road users and does not unnecessarily take lives.

Secondly, we must design a road transport system that has zero deaths. It will require a NEW way of thinking but the financial benefits alone are staggeringly ENORMOUS.

Thirdly we must be prepared to accept that it is a TRANSPORT System we are designing and not an etertainment system. For entertainment get yourself a Playstation or some other ‘virtual’ game. No one and absolutely no one will be allowed to threaten the life of another person using our New Transport System.

All of this is highly feasible and desirable and could be implemented within a ten year design period. Are you willing to have a future with (close to) zero fatalities and road trauma?

1 Response

  1. Peter Pullar July 17, 2011 / 9:19 am

    40 years ago when I learned to drive, the focus was on safety. I learned about defensive driving, for example checking my rear view mirror before slowing down or stopping. I kept my attention on the road especially in busy traffic. For me these are ingrained habits.
    However our road systems have now changed. We have traffic light cameras, several hundred dollar fines and demerit points for entering an intersection against a red light – even 0.5 seconds into the red. I must now learn to just stop before looking in the rear view mirror, and to pray that the driver of the vehicle behind me stops too.
    I must also learn to pay more attention to the speedometer, momentarily taking my attention away from the road even with cars, pedestrians and everything going on around me so as to avoid exceeding the speed limit by more than 2 kilometers per hour, to avoid the risk of speeding fines and demerit points.
    Some of my attention on safe driving and avoiding accidents is now being diverted into avoiding traffic penalties.
    And it gets worse.
    Magistrates in our courts no longer have as much discretionary power.
    For example if a person loses his licence for traffic offences, the magistrate no longer has the power allow him to drive at all even if he needs to drive for work in order to support his family. This now causes many people to drive without a licence so they can continue to support their families. It causes disrespect for the law.
    Some people claim that those who need to drive to earn a living should be more careful. However many of those who drive for a living spend a lot of time driving thus exposing them more to the risk of accumulating enough demerit points to lose their license.

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