Thousands of Australians owe their lives to advancements made on road safety. Deaths per 1000 registered motor vehicles have declined by a massive 77 per cent since 1980*.
That works out to be more than 30,000 people who would have died on the roads since 1980 if road, car and passenger safety standards had remained the same.
That is a remarkable statistic by any measure and sure, any single road fatality is a tragedy, but authorities seem to ignore how well we have done when they wheel out the annual road death statistics.
How has this happened??
According to the ANCAP** the safety of the vehicles themselves is the most important factor in reducing the road toll by such a phenomenal amount over the last 30 years. This can be divided into two main safety advancements.
Remember how not so many years ago Anti Lock Braking ( ABS ) was a luxury preserve of very expensive vehicles?
Now virtually every new vehicle has this feature as standard equipment. It prevents brake lock ups and resultant skidding and loss of car control as well as bringing the car to a halt much sooner.
A similar advance is with Electronic Stability Control ( ESC) which has also saved countless lives. This computer control kicks in when it detects loss of steering control. It automatically applies the brakes to help “steer” the vehicle where the driver intends to go.
ESC does not improve a vehicle’s cornering performance, instead it helps to minimise its loss of control. Virtually every new passenger vehicle has ESC. In fact if it doesn’t it can’t be sold in Victoria.
The third important development in crash avoidance features is traction control. Here the computer intervenes when the driving wheels lose traction by “slipping” on the road surface (like doing wheelies, or accelerating too quickly).
Do you know it wasn’t until 1970 that any Australian state made the wearing of seat belts mandatory? And that was amid protests, yet this one initiative has undoubtedly become a major life preserver in motor vehicle accidents.
Airbags took a long time to gain general acceptance. In fact they were virtually unavailable in vehicles sold in Australia until less than 20 years ago, and then only in luxury brands. But they quickly gained acceptance and now they proliferate, even in budget vehicles, as the buying public now realises how valuable they are in the event of a major accident. Of course they are compulsory equipment now in Australia (though optional in some overseas markets), and are a valuable addition to road safety.
Crumple Zones - have a look at this clip from the 80’s showing an early Holden Commodore. Now look at this one which shows two cars hitting each other in a frontal offset collision at 65Kph. One car is a 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air, and the other is a 2009 Chevrolet Malibu.
Which car would you rather be in?
In addition there are other contributing features, such as driver comfort and road improvements, but without doubt the most important factor in reducing the road toll is the safety of vehicles, and for that we should thank vehicle manufacturers around the world.
* Source- department of Infrustructure road safety publications
* Australian New Car Assessment Programme.