04 Oct 2019
“Leading the Way -Towards Zero”

Lauchlan McIntosh looks back at the Australian Road Safety Conference in Adelaide.

One more road safety conference; one more tag line; one year after the Australian Ministerial Review of the National Road Safety Strategy (NRSS), one Decade after the 2019 UN/WHO Ministerial Road Safety Conference.

The Keynote, Rob McInerney, encouraged delegates to build the scale needed to improve road safety with “One issue at a time…One by One!”

One five star school crossing at a time, one five star city at a time, one new road design at a time, one artificial intelligence at a time, one safe system treatment at a time, one celebration at time, one five star car at a time…..

Saving a life, an injury; One by One.

But are the conferences making a difference; are we learning together and reducing road trauma? Can we achieve a target of a 50% reduction in deaths and injuries by 2030 and achieve zero by 2050?

In 2009 the tag line for the ACRS conference was “Road Safety 2020: Smart solutions, sustainability, vision”.

In 2010 we were publishing papers outlining plans for zero fatalities in 2050. I was reporting on the Moscow 2009 Ministerial Conference; “While the conference of 1600 delegates was not in the same ‘news league’ as the Climate Conference in Copenhagen, it did resolve unanimously to recommend to the UN General Assembly in March this year that it declare a “Decade of Action on Road Safety” for 2011-2020 to save 5 million lives.”

Since then we have had many conferences, hundreds of research papers, many keynote addresses, hours of discussion and networking with thousands of delegate days invested.

This year in Australia, we now have one new Office of Road Safety, one new commitment by national transport ministers to prioritise road safety in their programs.

A quick scan over the last 20 years shows that road deaths (in Australia) are down by about 50% (per 100,000 population), and about 40% per 1 million km travelled. As for injury reduction, we simply do not know. (Shame.)

So we can and should celebrate some successes, while we contemplate what to do now.

The conference heard of a range of new, innovative, cost effective programs. But will they be enough?

The Hon Darren Chester MP asked at the 2017 Conference “Is there a war on our roads?. Dr Mark Rosekind(Ex NHTSA Administrator) our keynote said at that time “ if you want to get to ZERO you will need to do something different” and a year later the Deputy Chair of the US NTSB Bella DInh-Zahr urged Conference delegates to ensure they linked their road safety “science” with “stories” to ensure the results of research were accepted and implemented.

Lotte Brondum from the Global Alliance of NGOs’ for Road Safety this year urged delegates to “Commit to Act” to tell our leaders the impact of road trauma.

Hundreds of delegates this year signed the ACRS2019 Declaration to Ministerial leaders calling for specific interim national targets to achieve a 50% reduction in fatalities and serious injuries worldwide by 2030 (#50by30). ( A similar Declaration was made calling for trauma free roads in 2015.)

In 2009 at the Moscow Conference the FIA Road Safety Foundation noted
after 10 years of preparation we were well prepared for action to reduce road trauma. There was no dispute over the issues or the solutions. It was recognised that unlike the climate change agenda, we knew the systems that could work to save lives (then). One decade ago!

How many more victims stories do we need to convince us? In Adelaide one police officer receiving an award for road safety work reported he had perhaps prepared during his career over 5000 road death notification reports for his superiors. (Who else could handle such a terrible task?)

To quote Etienne Krug from the WHO in Geneva (in the same week as the Conference):

“ Outrageous! This week we reached 1,000,000 deaths on the roads in 2019. 1 million fathers, mothers, children killed from one second to another. Half of them while playing, walking, cycling or on a motorbike. Why do we accept to pay such a high price for our mobility?”

A question was asked in Adelaide. Do we need young angry advocates thundering like Greta Thunberg?

Road trauma is impacting on all generations in all countries now. Maybe we do need a youth advocate, but why are we not all angry advocates? Lotte Brondum is training her NGO Alliance members to take the “advocacy stance” to urge the leaders in all countries to “Commit to Action”.

The ARSC Adelaide conference summary will demonstrate, again, that we do know what to do.

While it was suggested we could be restricted in our quest for effective road trauma reductions by so called “diminishing returns” we were shown many new innovative, cost-efficient programs. They are yet to be implemented in scale. We must be better, more effective, with new knowledge.

What we do still lack is the necessary capacity, the skills, the people and financial resources to implement in scale those innovative and disruptive programs in vehicles, infrastructure, behaviour and enforcement necessary to achieve the trauma reductions.

We have institutional rigidity and a lack of urgency for change. A year after the NRSS Ministerial Review we have had only “one” roundtable of key road safety stakeholders, no real new skills or financial resources, our limited national serious injury data stops at 2016, a recent Infrastructure Australia Audit barely has a mention of road safety.

ACRS Fellow Sam Cockfield commented in her presentation; “This is just inadequate.” In my view no corporation, no political party would operate with such out of date and irrelevant data.

Delegates and presenters though were positive. They were keen to support a #50by30 campaign. Perhaps we are more committed than we were in 2009 and 2015.

The Australian Automobile Association, with support from 23 organisations, has just published a manifesto for “Reviving Road Safety”. Reviving? Why not!

Co chairs of the Federal Parliament Friends of Road Safety Group, the Hon Llew O’Brien and Senator Alex Gallacher and the Shadow Minister Senator Glen Sterle were honest in their assessment of that rigidity, the need for concerted action and with a commitment to act.

Is there a war on our roads? No. The only enemy is ourselves.

Can we all now commit to a smart, sustainable vision with new and different actions? One by one? Yes we can!

Can we realistically have a #50by30 target with interim targets? Based on our past performance-maybe, but by implementing innovative, known solutions-Yes we can!

(To quote speaker, Dr Nadia Anderson from UBER; “Repetition never hurt a prayer.”)