Victoria Police have hit out at a stunt by Wheels magazine in which one of its journalists recently drove from Melbourne to Sydney at an average speed of 130 kilometres per hour, claiming that higher speeds reduce driver fatigue, thus making the roads safer. The 800km trip was completed in just over six hours instead of the customary eight hours required at 100 km/h.
In my opinion curtailing speeds to 40 or 50 km/h in built up areas is a good measure for safety, I have no argument with that, but there is no need to keep divided highway and freeway speeds at 100 km/h, especially when cars today are fitted with all the modern safety features as standard equipment.
Unfortunately though, speed and red light cameras are turning our governments and local councils into civil liberty terrorists. They don’t want to admit it, but they deliberately plot to maximise revenue from traffic fines, not to particularly make our roads safer, but like gaming taxes, to supplement spending in unrelated areas.
Authorities in Australia (more than any other country) are overly obsessed with the road toll and along with their law enforcement agencies and traffic safety analysts, think they have the road safety aspect in perspective with their TV road safety campaigns when they don’t have an idea… For instance when things go wrong in traffic-land the police mostly blame the motorist and when things go right, they credit police presence for the results!
Would our State Government, Police or the Transport Accident Commission (TAC) and VicRoads experts like to explain why there are 400 per cent less young people dying on German freeways, where the speed limit is very much higher (unlimited on autobahns) than on our roads?
Our freeways and divided highways are good and safe enough to handle a national speed limit of at least 130 km/h. At that velocity, the chances of feeling drowsy due to boredom is dramatically decreased, you can’t fiddle with the stereo, can’t put make-up on, or hold the phone with one hand and drive. It will force drivers to be alert and concentrate on the road 100 per cent with both hands on the steering wheel.
Hoon laws (it seems to me what constitutes a ‘hoon’ these days is road behaviour that fuels media frenzy) and other vehicle confiscation schemes based on police discretion don’t cut the road toll, they merely make the police look good to the conservative elements of our nanny state. How many Bentleigh, Roller, Jag, Ferrari or Porsche owners would ever have their cars crushed because they had been speeding?
Politicians thrive on ‘road safety records’ as they seek mandates from voters who source information from self proclaimed ‘law abiding’ TV/radio media opinions, more intent on sensationalising road trauma for ratings, than producing challenging or investigative journalism on road safety.
All this does not change the fact that there are incompetent drivers out on our roads that absolutely soil their pants at the mere thought of driving over 80 km/h, but think nothing of applying make-up behind the wheel, drink driving, mobile phone texting, eating with one hand and generally dealing with kids in the back seat while driving. This is the result of our too-easy driver’s licence test that does just enough to obtain one’s licence, but does nothing in educating drivers to control a vehicle under all road conditions and at reasonably high speeds.
A few months ago, the Police said that the public needed to make speeding ‘socially unacceptable’. In reality, too many police are spending far too much time and effort on road infringements and not enough time on real ‘socially unacceptable’ issues like drive-by shootings, home invasions, robberies, drug and alcohol abuse, drink driving to include pub or sports arena car parks, public transport safety, violence and rape. Hard crime cannot be eradicated if most of our cops are out chasing ‘hoons’ for doing a shade over the limit.
The TAC should be developing a proper driver education program that covers road courtesy, mechanical theory, fault detection, defensive night and wet weather driving, including the competent control of a speeding vehicle. The program should be accompanied by an extensive six month after-hours driving theory course and at least 200 hours behind the wheel with a qualified instructor, not a relative or friend. (The comprehensive German auto licence instruction and test is taken very seriously, costing the person going for their licence around AUD $2,500 in addition to hundreds more each time they fail and retry). I am quite aware that some drivers in Australia, no matter their age or gender, may never pass the stringent tests to acquire a licence under those conditions, but that way it’s safer they are off our roads rather than on them.
Another aspect is to heavily fine parents that hand old or mechanically run down cars to first time young drivers. Introduce mandatory annual registration road worthy checks, ban 10-year-old and modified vehicles that don’t have an accredited engineering clearance. In fact, it should be illegal for a first time ‘P’ plate driver to drive a car more than five years old. Reduce alcohol tolerance levels to an absolute zero for everyone and stop the import of substandard cheap tyres that are potentially dangerous on wet and slippery roads.
The radical road safety and licencing changes suggested within may never happen in Australia because too many drivers and cars will fail their licence safety tests miserably. Imagine the backlash on politicians if most Australians were forced to buy a new car every five years. In reality though, apart from having safe road going vehicles, the Australian car industry will be healthy again.
As most freeway speeding infringements incurred are ‘for not exceeding the speed limit by more than 15 km/h’, if we had an open road speed limit of 130 km/h and a tolerance of plus 10 per cent (which is the same percentage of tolerance factory fitted speedometers are allowed to have under the current ADR laws), the government would lose 80 per cent of their precious ‘road safety’ revenue.
The monetary loss will be huge and well into hundreds of millions of dollars, so governments will never see any logic in change outside of making an annual surplus. I wonder what would happen if all motorists complied with the traffic laws and for one year reduced the government’s traffic revenue intake to almost nothing?
What next for more of motorists’ money? Make the yellow cycle on traffic lights shorter, reduce speed limits across the board by another 20 km/h, quadruple traffic cameras, double registration fees, increase petrol excise and introduce new technologies like the black box GPS speed transponder and a range of trivial new traffic infringement laws? Of course, all under the guise of road safety!
If countries in Europe and our own Northern Territory can cope with a 130km/h speed limit, then we can too.