Footloose: A bid to cut Australia's regional road tolls

Footloose A bid to cut regional road tolls

A few weeks ago, a government decision in Victoria started a lively debate about the best way to make our roads safer.

In a couple of places in Victoria there are plans to place wire barriers down the centre line of single-lane each-way roads – a bid to stop head-on prangs.

It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to know that head-on crashes on the open road, where both vehicles are doing about 100km/h – a closing speed of 200km/h – are horrific. Steel, plastic and rubber get ripped and torn and human flesh and bone fare a lot worse.

I remember the first head-on prang I ever went to. I was a young digger, and an army Land Rover had been involved in a head-on along the highway south of Port Augusta.

A war-veteran Sergeant-Major took a group of us to pick up the remains of the Landie. The bodies had been removed by then, or at least the major bits of the bodies had been removed, but there was still a lot of blood and gore to attend to.

None of us young fellows felt like eating our cut lunches and I’ll always remember the ol’ Sgt-Major munching on his sandwiches as he sat on the torn and twisted mudguard of the Landie.

Separating traffic in some way is nothing new, and wire barriers (known as cheese-slicers by motorcyclists) have already been used a in some Australian states to do just that. Mind you, you’d think Victoria had come up with the idea, the way some went on about it.

At the time that debate was raging, I had been up and down the Calder Highway, which for the most part is a single-lane each-way road with traffic separated by a line or a double line. This gives 100mm or so of clearance between the two opposing directions of traffic.Meanwhile, on each side of the road is a shoulder of at least a metre; I’ve always thought that was a bit crazy.

Yeah, I know it’s there for bicycle riders and breakdowns, but on all the trips up and down that particular highway, I’ve yet to see a bike rider out on the open road.

Sure, it’s also a little safer if you drift off the road, but surely with a bit of common sense and some double-line marking we could have a one-metre gap in the centre of the road and still have a metre of space on each shoulder.

When I was down in South Australia a few months ago, they were trialling a wide median strip with a double-line marking on the Dukes Highway in the south-east of the state. It has always been a horror stretch, with head-on prangs pretty common. I have a friend over there who, being in the State Emergency Service, attends a lot of accidents along that stretch. He puts many down to fatigue, often caused by people driving with their air-conditioning on recirculate.

Up in Queensland, near Gympie, a metre-wide, painted median strip has been saving lives since 2012. On this stretch of highway there had previously been a fatal crash nearly every week. They also dropped the speed limit to 90km/h and, while that didn’t initially go down well with the locals, everyone has since seen the benefit of the changes.

So let’s make driving safer and change the way we mark our major country roads. Sure, let’s put wire barriers on some roads when they are deemed necessary, but I reckon we should simply be changing the way we line-mark all our single lane highways – wherever they are. It wouldn’t be all that expensive and it would certainly save lives!

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