Is your life worth 26 seconds?

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Clay Adams | November 29th, 2016

Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster is a maniac?

The quote from comedian George Carlin sums up one of life’s great riddles – what is it about getting behind the wheel of a car that changes people? I ask because I visited Australia recently and found driving to be an entirely different experience.

Not because they drive on the other side of the road. Heck, toilets flush clockwise down under compared to counter clockwise here although I’ve never studied a flushing toilet intently enough to truly confirm that.

If new to driving on the right (well, the steering wheel is on the right…you actually drive on the left if that makes sense), you will open the passenger door expecting to drive and turn the wipers on instead of indicators. Trust me, you will.

But if driving in Australia for the first time, you will also notice something surprising. Speeding is almost non-existent.

Seriously.

Why? Because do so and you are almost guaranteed to be punished for it. Australia has developed such a culture around road safety and visible enforcement, that driving above a posted speed limit is almost certain to land you a ticket, significant demerit points or worse.

Now ever since I was a little Weet-Bix kid kicking an Aussie Rules ball and chasing kangaroos, I recall advertisements and road signs about the perils of dangerous driving. Over the years, Australia has invested millions in awareness, education and enforcement to reduce the carnage on its roads.

Signs to remind people of the dangers of speeding – some quite graphic – are everywhere. Also highly visible are photo radar cameras, both fixed and mobile. Police make no secret where they are likely to be set up and, in some cases, signs warn drivers that they are approaching a fixed speed camera.

What’s the point of having police if you don’t know they’re there?

Police themselves make an effort to be seen. As my good friend, a police sergeant in Melbourne, said to me about the number of unmarked police cars in Vancouver – “What’s the point of having police if you don’t know they’re there?” The higher the profile, the greater the likelihood of changing behaviour.

The state of Victoria established the Transport Accident Commission to showcase examples of actions taken. There’s even a section for health professionals that includes fees, policies and forms. Australia, for those unaware, has a mix of public and private care.

Unlike Vancouver, Australian drivers don’t see road signs as a guide. They see them as a limit. Exceed those limits and you will be caught and punished. Even worse, you could die. It is wonderful to see. All this effort has more than halved deaths on Victorian road deaths. Fewer than 230 people lost their lives in 2015 compared to 291 deaths on BC roads in 2014. I couldn’t find a 2015 BC statistic which, in itself, shows how much emphasis we place on road safety.

Data shows that speeding actually does little to gain time. A University of Sydney study shows the average driver saves a meagre 26 seconds per day or two minutes per week by speeding. Not even enough time to do what it takes to make that toilet flush.

What does this have to do with health? Well in 2013, there were 85,000 injuries across BC due to a motor-vehicle related prang (that’s Aussie for crash). Of those, 61,000 were in or around VCH territory. A 2009 report said motor vehicle injuries cost the Canadian health system $10.7 billion annually.

Imagine what we could do with that money? More importantly, imagine what the hundreds who die on our roads each year would be doing if alive today. Australians are not perfect. I am proof of that. But they do some things right and taking a firm, visible approach to ending road carnage is exemplary.

Critics argue that photo radar and other penalties are merely money grabbers. Perhaps, but Australia shows that they are also a deterrent. Speeding saves 26 seconds. Twenty-six seconds. Is it worth it?

You tell me.

About the Author

Clay Adams
email iconClay.Adams@vch.ca  

Clay Adams is vice president of Communications and Public Affairs and has extensive experience in strategic communications and planning, media relations, issues management and stakeholder communications in Australia and Canada. Clay writes on communication related topics with a wry humorous style and has an interest in discussion about how we want to be understood by others. View all the posts by Clay.

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2 comments on “Is your life worth 26 seconds?

  • John Carsley says:

    Australia has made HUGE strides in creating a culture of safer roads and drivers. Here in BC, one might say we suck. We have a provincial government addicted to the popular, evidence be damned, so when folks said they would like to drive faster, the Ministry of Transport obliged by increasing speed limits on 15% of rural highways. The result? An 11% rise in fatal and serious injury crashes on sections with increased limits compared to those without. Their response? Roll back the limits on only two sections and pretend the problem that they created was solved. As for photo radar, New South Wales in Australia brought back photo radar from the same place it is here (everybody hated it) to an effective enforcement tool in just two years by doing three or four simple things. Now communities clamour for it to control speeding. When is BC really going to step up to the road safety problem?

  • Elsie says:

    Thanks for taking the time to write this article.
    Just wish the RCMP will make their presence known more often as I seldom see them in the city. And hope the ICBC will work to impose higher fines/penalty points, and take away the driving licenses of reckless and persons indicted for DUI.

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