COMMENT: Roads minister urges country drivers to admit there’s a problem

CONCERNED: NSW Minister for Roads, Maritime and Freight Melinda Pavey is urging country drivers to change the habits which are claiming their lives.
CONCERNED: NSW Minister for Roads, Maritime and Freight Melinda Pavey is urging country drivers to change the habits which are claiming their lives.

I’M a country girl and always will be.

I grew up on a dairy farm and remember how we would just jump in the truck or the tractor and go from paddock to paddock without a seatbelt, or jump on a motorbike without a helmet.

I remember this feeling of invincibility: nothing will happen to me because it’s my road, I’ve driven it a thousand times before and I know it better than anyone else.

Of course, it was a complete fiction back then, just as it is now.

People in country NSW make up only a third of our state’s population and yet we make up more than two-thirds of its road toll. In fact, if you live in the country, you are four times more likely to be killed in a road crash than if you live in the city.

Already this year, 354 people have been killed in NSW, with a staggering 244 of them dying on country roads.

There are few degrees of separation in country communities. So when a member of a small community is suddenly ripped away, the effects can ripple through it for years.

I’ve lost friends on my roads at home and there’s never a time that I don’t feel sad and a profound sense of loss when I drive past the spots where, on a day that would have felt like any other, friends and neighbours never made it home.

If you ask most country people you’ll often hear the same argument: they know people are dying on their roads but believe it is the out-of-towners, the tourists from the big cities, unfamiliar with our roads.

But the reality is last year only 10 per cent of people involved in fatal crashes on country roads were from metro areas and just 12 per cent were from interstate or overseas.

This means that the vast majority of those lives lost in the country were locals, and many of them are dying close to home.

And more often than not it’s the blokes who are paying the ultimate price with men last year making up nearly 80 per cent of all deaths on country roads.

This is not about judging country drivers (I am one myself); it’s about trying to save them.

And that must begin with some harsh truths. Across the board, country drivers take more risks.

And on country roads, with their higher speed limits, roadside hazards and single carriageways, the consequences of taking these risks are much more severe.

Last year, just under a third of all road deaths in metro NSW involved someone driving too fast. In the country, this figure was 47 per cent and claimed 118 lives.

Tired drivers accounted for eight per cent of deaths in metro areas, while in the country it was more than triple at 28 per cent.

It’s a similar story with one of our other big killers - drink-driving. A staggering 85 per cent of the deaths caused by someone who’d had too much to drink were in the country.

And when it comes to people not wearing seatbelts, country people continue to die in greater numbers. Last year, around one in every five deaths in the country were as a result of someone not wearing this proven lifesaving device. In the metro areas, it was around one in 10.

It’s often said that you can’t hope to fix a problem unless you can admit you have one.

It’s time we in the country face facts, and at least start the conversation by admitting to ourselves that indeed we do have a problem and that any solution must first begin with each and every one of us, each and every time we get behind the wheel.

Melinda Pavey is the member for Oxley and the Minister for Roads, Maritime and Freight