Lawyer Victoria
The road toll

The road toll

21 April 2017

Almost 12 months ago the Transport Accident Commission (TAC) in Victoria courageously claimed that a zero road toll was achievable by 2055.

For the TAC Chief Executive, Joe Calafiore, to set such a target and to promote it as more than just aspirational is laudable.

Also worthy of note is that the TAC, with its mission statement to become the world's leading social insurer, while administering a no-fault and common law scheme, presided over a financial result for 2016 that paid $1 .22 billion in benefits and achieved a $542 million performance from insurance operations (a record result for the TAC). These results were managed by genuine engagement with all relevant stakeholders, including lawyers, the TAC and with the support of the government.

Tort reformers in other states and territories should take note.

However, the pathway to a zero road toll is complex, and is fraught with many challenges, as the last 12 months have proved.

In July 2016, the Australian national road toll reached a five-year high. According to Department oflnfrastructure and Regional Development figures, the number of deaths was the highest since 2012 . Factors noted as responsible were speed, fatigue, drugs, alcohol and distraction.

The Australian Automobile Association 'revealed that there were 15,339 crashes in the country that resulted in death or serious injury  incidents: Road deaths in the period JanuarySeptember 2016 increased by over 7 per cent compared with the same period in 2015.

An increasing road toll is not only an Australian phenomenon.

In the United States, fatalities from motor vehicle accidents reached 35,092 in 2015, up by over 7 per cent from 201 4, but then, according to the National Safety Council, increased again by 9 per cent in the first half of2016. Smartphone use and other distractions were said to be factors, as well as speed and alcohol.'

Similarly, in the United Kingdom, road casualty figures released by the Department for Transport showed that 25,160 people were killed or seriously injured in the 12 months to September 20 16, representing a 6 per cent increase over the same period in the previous year.

Bear in mind that these injury statistics could be even worse, for it is estimated that many bicycle crashes-go unreported.

The awful tragedy is the human suffering behind all of these numbers.

Despite all the best endeavours, something is happening with the road tolls, worldwide. Claims will increase. Tort reform will not decrease either the death toll or the suffering behind the statistics.

With the advent of safer motor vehicles and all the attention and focus on road safety, recent experience is very worrying.

Distraction with mobile phones is an easy target. Anecdotally, police say that this and speed are the top of their list. Technology to prevent
the use of smart phones while driving already exists.

Interestingly, automated motor vehicles - especially selfdriving fully automated motor vehicles - are often cited as the way forward. This may be true, but a serious consideration of the timeline is sobering. In a recent article, Alex Roy noted: 'There are 27 4,000 ,000 cars in the United States, give or take, with a turnover of around 17 million annually. If 100 per cent of cars sold today were self-driving, it would take 16 years to get to 100 per cent ubiquity:

In the same article, Alex Roy goes on to say that to attain a total of 35 per cent of self-driving cars in 10 years means that '100 per cent of cars sold would have to be self-driving by 2021.

Not a chance:

Further, in an article published last year in Scientific American, Steven Shladover, mechanical engineer with bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees, commented 'that fully automated vehicles capable of driving in every situation will not be here until 2075.

The reality is that appropriate steps to reverse the current trend of a rising death toll need to be taken now.

Self-driving car technology is no panacea or saviour yet.

By Tony Kenyon
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