Govt rolls out statistics to support barriers

THE state government is emphasising run-off road crash statistics, after criticism from the Nationals over the  installation of wire rope and flexible roadside and centre line barriers.

Road trauma data released by VicRoads and the Transport Accident Commission reveal 21 fatal Gippsland crashes were the result of a vehicle veering out of its lane, six of them head-on.

The organisations said run-off road crashes were a “prevalent factor” in regional accidents, which TAC chief executive Joe Calafiore said highlighted the importance of building a safer road system.

“It’s not only fatalities that are over represented in country areas — one in five people seriously injured are on high-speed regional roads,” he said.

In Wellington Shire, five people were killed in 2016, and six in 2017.

Between January and June 2017, road trauma statistics show there were 37 incidents, including nine running off a straight road, and eight off a road on a curve.

Five incidents resulted in hospital stays longer than 14 days.

According to VicRoads, in 2016 there were 12 casualty crashes along Princes Highway east in Wellington Shire, resulting in 14 people sustaining serious injuries, and an additional nine people with minor injuries.

Of these 12 casualty crashes, eight were run off road, resulting in 12 people sustaining serious injuries, and an additional six people with minor injuries.

In 2017 there were 17 casualty crashes along the Princes Highway east in Wellington Shire, resulting in one death, three people sustaining serious injuries, and an additional 17 people with minor injuries.

Of these 17 casualty crashes, one was a run off road, resulting in one person with minor injuries.

The number of people killed on Gippsland roads increased by two in 2017, from 26 to 28, while Victoria’s overall lives lost figure dropped from 290 in 2016 to 257 last year.

Regional Victoria remains over represented in fatalities, with 155 people killed on country roads last year, compared with 150 in 2016.

The new wire-rope barriers and other safety infrastructure measures are part of VicRoads and the TAC’s solution to the problem, funded by a $340 million from the state government’s $1.1 billion Towards Zero Action Plan.

VicRoads acting deputy chief executive, Peter Todd, said everybody made mistakes on the road, but it should not cost lives.

“People driving on country roads are four times more likely to be killed than those driving in metropolitan areas,” he said.

“We should not accept this statistic,” he said.

“This year VicRoads is ramping up its efforts to build a safer road network across Gippsland, including the installation of more flexible safety barriers to prevent devastating run-off-road and head-on crashes.”

Roads and Road Safety Minister Luke Donnellan, clearly frustrated with opposition to the barriers, described opponents to their roll-out as banjoplaying dingbats, in a visit to an installation site on the Calder Highway last week.

“So people can go around playing banjos, playing conspiracy theories, rubbish like that, they need to actually deal with the facts and figures,” the Bendigo Advertiser reported Mr Donnellan as saying.

He also described his political opponents as “dingbats” for raising their concerns.

“… we’re investing more than $1 billion to make our country roads safer,” Mr Donnellan said.

“We’re investing in the things we know save lives on country roads, rolling out more than 2000 kilometres of flexible safety barriers, thousands of kilometres of rumble strips as well as new turning and overtaking lanes.”

Eastern Victoria MLC Harriet Shing said Gippsland’s road users are overrepresented in the number of serious crashes and fatalities across Victoria every year.

“We also know that wire rope barriers save lives,” she said.

“We will continue to roll out these barriers and other road safety measures across the region, because they reduce the number and severity of crashes, and ultimately save lives”.

However, the scheme has come under attack from local Nationals, who have questioned why road surfaces aren’t also being upgraded, and criticising what they perceive as a lack of consultation.

Gippsland East MLA Tim Bull described the roll-out as “a mess”.

While he understood the road safety benefits, “there are other considerations in this as well that simply have not been considered through lack of consultation,” he said, referring to complaints from some CFA members, bus drivers, and motorbike riders.

Gippsland South MLA Danny O’Brien added there were access issues along the Princes Highway upgrades, which made it difficult to pull over.

“The state government should be explaining to people better about why they’re being rolled out, and there should be a wider distance on the highway for trucks, caravans, and boats,” he said.

“Money is being spent on barriers when the road surface itself is in poor condition.

“The comment I get quite a bit is ‘I wouldn’t be running off the road if I wasn’t avoiding potholes in the middle’.

“These are not mutually exclusive issues.”

Mr Donellan said there had been extensive consultation, including online feedback and door knocking, as well as community information sessions.

One kilometre of the Princes Highway has been fitted with barriers near Bengworden Rd, to familiarise the community with the centre-line plan.