President’s column – 5 June 2020

ALGA President David O'Loughlin gestures at a lectern

Remember our “last” road safety crisis – 1200 road deaths a year and flatlining? 

And serious injuries (hospital admissions) approaching 40,000 a year and rising, not falling, despite 10 years of road safety effort and billions of dollars spent on road maintenance and upgrades.

And before we point the finger at other governments, 30 percent of fatalities were on council roads, and 70 percent of regional road deaths were locals, not lost city folk.

This is our challenge as much as it is one for National, State or Territory governments – and we, each council staff member and elected representative, should own it as a sector.

Last November, the national Office of Road Safety asked ALGA and the states to help come up with key priorities for the National Road Safety Strategy (NRSS) for 2021-30.

The previous NRSS for 2011-20 was undergoing a critical review, not only because it was timely but because all governments were failing to deliver on the agreed targets.

The review of the NRSS 2011-20 strategy found that “there is a clear need for greater leadership, strengthened management, heightened accountability and more effective coordination to reduce road trauma across Australia”.

At a more granular level, the review noted that “The Safe System approach has been adopted but not ingrained or mainstreamed within government business by federal, state, territory or local governments”.

Yes, that means us too.

It went on to make further observations about road safety teams “lacking influence across the Safe System pillars and within their own organisation”, while stressing the need for road infrastructure funding to be conditional on “the inclusion of Safe System treatments in every project”.

In plain language, we appoint road safety gurus but do not listen to them, and we spend money on roads to achieve objectives that are not necessarily about improving safety.

Addressing these and other key findings has been a major priority for ALGA in the year since the review of road safety governance arrangements was published, both in a policy sense and as a member of the Transport and Infrastructure Council (TIC).

I touched on aspects of this work in an address to the LGNSW Virtual Local Road Conference on 1 June, including:

  • funding assistance including the Black Spot program, Roads 2 Recovery and Bridges Renewal is welcome but insufficient; and
  • It’s time local governments stepped up en masse and adopted the safe system principles within our mainstream infrastructure programs.

In even plainer language, as much as we like asking for more money, let us get our own act together too.

Many councils are doing excellent work in this area, Mildura Rural City Council being one to look at.

Their Road Safety Strategy 2018-20 included previous performance against targets, records of what works, and what doesn’t, network analysis, and safe systems thinking – all in plain English!

Some regions are promoting a network analysis approach to heavy vehicle patterns and associated safety concerns.

LGASA has developed a model Road Safety policy for its members to use.

Perhaps the greatest benefits come when councils forge a close relationship with their State or Territory governments to enable holistic consideration of the road network.

Take WALGA’s RoadWise program, founded in 1994 and in many respects still the gold standard for a coordinated, state-wide road safety framework.

The WA state government funds the delivery of RoadWise, supported by local governments with financial and in-kind contributions for local road safety action.

The program aims to engage local governments and communities in actions that support and contribute to the implementation of Towards Zero, WA’s road safety strategy 2008-20. 

A team of regional and metropolitan-based RoadWise staff assist members of the state-wide community road safety network by:

  • promoting participation and community ownership;
  • facilitating opportunities for local road safety leadership;
  • supporting local road safety committees;
  • providing access to resources and training; and
  • sharing information.

This capacity-building involves improving individual skills, strengthening community action and empowering organisations to take responsibility for road safety and contribute to better road safety outcomes.

Capacity-building, community ownership and action, training and leadership, sharing information – these are all things that every council could be doing, right now, without a single extra dollar in external funding.

The NSW model of supporting Road Safety Officers (RSOs) at councils is also worth emulating.

Council RSOs come under the umbrella of the NSW Local Government Road Safety Program, which has helped to raise the profile of road safety in many councils across the state. 

I understand there are currently 80 NSW councils with an RSO, in a program jointly funded by councils and the state government

With TIC having agreed that the next National Road Safety Strategy will address road safety strategies and plans at every level of government, I am confident today’s TIC meeting will continue to advance a unified agenda.

Greater coordination, greater support, and a safe systems approach will ensure every dollar we spend on a road will help save lives and reduce road trauma.

David O’Loughlin,
ALGA President