By: Fabian Cotter

FATAL CRASHES INVOLVING BUSES increased by 12.5 per cent compared with the corresponding period one year earlier (from 24 to 27 crashes) and increased by an average of 15.0 per cent per year over the three years to March 2018, according to a Federal Government report released recently.

Despite a lower count than trucks, bus crashes have increased marginally recently.

During the 12 months to March 2018, 32 people died in 27 fatal crashes involving buses, according to the Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities report titled Fatal Heavy Vehicle Crashes Australia — Quarterly Bulletins.

Further explained via an information sheet accompanying the report, it describes modelling of road fatality rates for the eight Australian States and Territories, and fatality and injury rates for Australia as a whole. The models are constructed 1) to allow an understanding of the past forces underlying the fatality rates in each jurisdiction covered, and 2) to allow forecasts of future trends in road safety – or rather "its obverse, death and injury".

It states: "The major past influences lowering the road toll have been seat belt fitting and wearing, random breath testing, speed cameras, mobile drug testing, improvements in vehicles and infrastructure, and periods of economic uncertainty. In the future, the forecast is for flat fatality rates per vehicle kilometre (in the absence of new safety measures) and increasing vehicle kilometres, leading to increasing fatalities. This is especially so for States such as Western Australia and the Northern Territory, where traffic growth is expected to be greater than in the rest of Australia. Several measures that in the past have saved many lives each year (such as seatbelts) have limited capacity for expanded deployment."

"Improvements in vehicle and infrastructure safety are expected to be more than offset by increased car travel and distraction from mobile phones and other devices. New measures (such as photographic monitoring of mobile phone use, radical new vehicle safety technologies, enhanced speed, alcohol and drug enforcement, safety-targeted infrastructure improvements, etc.) will be required to offset the growth in fatalities associated with increased traffic volumes."

In terms of modelling methodology, the Report states: "The dependent variables are fatality rates and injury rates. These are defined as deaths and injuries per billion safety-weighted vehicle kilometres travelled. The definition of death is a death within 30 days of a road accident involving a moving vehicle on a public road. The definition of injury is an injury serious enough to involve admission to hospital.

Vehicle kilometres travelled (VKT) have been weighted by risk factors for the different vehicle types to give a more realistic measure of ‘exposure to death and injury’. The weights used for ‘safety-weighted VKT’ are: Cars and Light Commercial Vehicles 1.0, Buses 1.5, Trucks 2.0, and Motorcycles 26.0. So the ‘fatality rate’ is defined as ‘deaths per billion safety-weighted VKT’ and the ‘injury rate’ is defined as ‘serious injuries per billion safety-weighted VKT’."

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The major influences lowering the road toll have been seat belt fitting and wearing, random breath testing, speed cameras, mobile drug testing and, in Queensland, a graduated licencing system. Other influences are rising deaths as a result of mobile phone use, balanced by the spread of vehicle safety technology and infrastructure improvements and by downward social trends in ‘drinking and driving’. However, both fatality and injury rates are forecast to be only very slowly declining to 2030, in the absence of further policy measures, the Report’s Information Sheet states.

Disturbingly, it states, "Given expected increases in vehicle kilometres travelled, this results in forecast increases in annual deaths (plus 14 per cent) and hospitalised injuries (plus 25 per cent) from 2018 to 2030."

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