Reflecting on 50 Years of Road Safety

Posted on: Thursday, 17 January 2019 at 12:00:00 AM

Local Governments have an important role to play in planning and implementing policies and initiatives to improve public health.

When thinking of the public health approach from a Local Government perspective, first thoughts may include the provision of health services such as food safety, hygiene or water inspections; noise control; animal control; immunisation services; or community services such as child care, aged care, community care and welfare services.

Road safety is also a public health issue – one which Local Governments have been taking action to address for many decades.

Taking a public health approach to road crashes means accepting that crashes will occur, but that no one should die or be seriously injured as a result of using the road transport system. Road safety in this context refers to the strategies and methods used to reduce and prevent road users from being killed or seriously injured. So no matter how many crashes there are, we are working towards zero deaths or serious injuries.

Working with a road safety network of more than 6000 people including Local Government, State Government and Federal Government agencies, community groups and individuals, WALGA’s RoadWise has worked to develop and deliver creative, evidence-informed road safety initiatives and resources, contributing to the reduction and prevention of road deaths and serious injuries.

Most people working in road safety (and those who have made contributions in the past) like to think their actions are contributing in some way to reducing road trauma.

Seeing tangible results of the road safety effort is not always easy (or possible), however recent reports allow an insight into road safety achievements over the past 50 years.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) report Changing Patterns of Mortality in Australia 1968 – 2017 ( examines the leading causes of mortality since 1968. The report shows road crash fatalities no longer feature in the top 10 list of leading causes of death, falling from 4th place in 1968 to 28th place in 2017.

Road deaths in Australia 1968 – 2017










Rate per 100,000



Note: the rate per 100,000 data is from Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics

Similarly, a 2018 Public Health Association Report put road safety in the top 10 successes from public health interventions in the past two decades (

Considerable gains have been made through behavioural campaigns, reducing/lowering the incidence of drink driving, drug driving and speeding, increasing restraint use and improving understanding of the impacts of fatigue and distraction.

These achievements have been supported by legislative changes and enforcement activities (changes to seatbelt and blood alcohol concentration (BAC) legislation, legislated speed reductions, novice driver legislation, increased random breath testing etc.), road improvements (roundabouts, traffic control signals, grade separations, wider roads, line marking etc.), as well as vehicle improvements (compulsory seatbelts, Anti-lock Braking Systems (ABS), Electronic Stability Control (ESC), Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) etc.).

Strategic consultation of road safety issues, particularly in relation to the development and adoption of the current Towards Zero WA Road Safety Strategy 2008-20 has also reinforced the public health approach and supported wider community engagement in road safety.

Local Government interventions which have contributed to these successes include designing, building and maintaining the road network (88% of the WA road network), managing and operating fleets, targeted speed reductions and community leadership of road safety issues, activities and initiatives.

As we work towards achieving zero deaths and serious injuries on WA roads, not only do we need to continue to implement existing effective actions, we need to fine tune our approach to incorporate new strategies, projects and initiatives to achieve greater gains.

This translates to the need to be more deliberate and strategic in our actions, working to implement strategies, projects or approaches which will deliver the biggest benefits, supported by best practice and the research available.

Examples of this include targeted speed reductions for both safety and community amenity (liveable neighbourhoods, safe active streets, people before cars approaches), road and infrastructure improvements, and fleet safety improvements.

By continuing to apply public health solutions, Local Governments are well placed to both lead and contribute to the ongoing road safety effort required to achieve zero road deaths and serious injuries.

WALGA’s RoadWise can assist by providing advice and assistance to Local Governments and supporting local road safety committees, providing access to resources and training, and increasing local knowledge.

Road Safety Advisors are available in each region (visit to find your closest advisor) with additional information about the RoadWise Program also available at and

Find out more about Vision Zero and the Safe System Approach to road safety by downloading the new WALGA RoadWise Fact Sheets from


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