An expert leading the government’s effort to curb the road toll has called for autonomous emergency braking technology to be made mandatory in all new cars immediately.
John Crozier, a surgeon, has warned Australia is not on track to meet its already conservative targets to reduce road deaths and serious injuries by 30% in the 10 years to 2020.
He has urged the new transport minister, Barnaby Joyce, to bring the same passion and leadership to road safety as his predecessor and fellow National Darren Chester, who was dumped in Malcolm Turnbull’s December cabinet reshuffle.
Crozier, who has been appointed to review Australia’s 10-year road safety strategy, said the government must take dramatic steps to achieve its road toll targets.
That includes moving more quickly than European nations to make modern car safety technologies mandatory. The European Commission has directed that collision avoidance, autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning and fatigue monitoring technology be mandatory in all cars by 2020.
“We could move more quickly than that,” Crozier told Guardian Australia. “Autonomous emergency braking will predictably deliver decrease in death and serious injury, and certainly decrease the number of crashes.
“The immediate implementation of that has been adopted by South Korea late last year. Now, if that … nation can do something as dramatic as that as quickly, we as a nation should be prepared to demonstrate agility adopting those proven safety measurements.”
Asked whether Australia should follow South Korea’s lead, Crozier responded: “Absolutely.”
The road toll has been in long-term decline in Australia since the early 1970s, but recent rises have prompted concern among experts.
In 2017, Australia was on track to post a near-record low death rate on its roads. The number of deaths per 100,000 people fell to 4.92 in the 12 months to the end of November, down from 5.62 the previous year.
There were 1,209 road deaths in the same period, 5% fewer than the previous year.
But the result may have been marred by a horror Christmas period in some states, including New South Wales, where 28 people died, double last year’s toll.
“It’s still an acceptance that there will be over 1,000 of us killed each year on the roads as a price paid to travel. That’s actually an unreasonable cost,” Crozier said.
“Forty-four thousand seriously injured. A country town of moderate size, the whole population of that hospitalised each year as a price for travelling … is absolutely unacceptable.”
Crozier said the black spot program, which seeks to prioritise funding and infrastructure improvements in areas with high numbers of road death, was flawed.
It acted only as a band-aid solution to dangerous areas, he said, when improvements were needed to the entire road corridor.
“What we know in 2017 is that there are a number of engineering elements in a road system which from the outset will make that whole traffic corridor much safer,” he said.
“Better by far to target that funding to improving the whole corridor than playing band-aid fix-up, catch-up, after the event, after accepting numbers of deaths and serious injuries.”
Australia’s road toll targets are relatively low compared with other countries.
Car manufacturers such as Volvo and international organisations such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development believe the road toll can be quickly cut to zero. The UN believes road deaths and serious injuries can be cut by 50% of 2010 levels by 2020.
“But we also need to accept how fragile as human creatures we are,” Crozier said. “As a surgeon I see each day the serious injury [of] the forces generated from these crashes, thousands of which occur each day on our roads.