Among the chief pleasures of the holiday season is the freedom to travel to the places we love, along with the people who matter to us most. And every holiday season, that pleasure is tempered by the heartbreaking stories of those who set out on such journeys, but never arrive, due to the carnage on our roads.
Each fatality is a disaster at an individual, family and community level, but in the face of such horrors, it is important to remind ourselves of what has been achieved in the battle against road trauma. In 1970, almost 3800 Australians were killed on the road.
Provisional figures for 2017 put the toll at well under a third of that. And if you factor in population growth, our road toll is less than a fifth of what it was 40 years ago.
It is also important to temper our reflex to sheet home every road fatality to state and federal governments. Perhaps in no area of interaction with the community is the individual called upon to exercise more responsibility, maturity and commonsense than when he or she is driving.
The three chief killers on our roads remain drivers who are fatigued, drivers who are affected by alcohol or drugs, and, above all, drivers who are speeding. Road safety boffins and the police can do only so much to combat such idiotic, high-risk behaviour.
Nevertheless, we can and must do more.
While the road toll is marginally down nationally, there has been a rise in NSW, including a horror holiday road toll of 28 fatalities, double the same period last year.
A national annual toll stuck in the thousands is far too high, especially when we remember that for every fatality there are about 30 serious injuries.
One area crying out for attention is fatal accidents involving trucks. Transport Workers Union chief Tony Sheldon has been warning that the crushing economics of the trucking industry will lead to more serious accidents, and this now appears to be happening, particularly in NSW.
A second area is road fatalities in the bush, which are disproportionate. Deaths on metro roads last year were down on 2016, but deaths on country roads continued to rise. Evidence suggests country road users are driving faster, on poorer roads, and in less roadworthy vehicles than their city cousins.
Until driver-less cars and trucks eliminate the single most deadly threat we face on the roads – ourselves – individual responsibility remains the key to safer roads and safer holidays.