Road crashes are costing Australian society almost $30bn a year, a new report estimates.
The Australian Automobile Association (AAA), which commissioned the report, is warning that efforts to reduce road trauma are failing, and calls on the federal government to show leadership and boost safety funding.
The chief executive of the AAA, Michael Bradley, said the report showed Australia’s approach was “neither effective nor proportionate” to the total cost of road trauma.
“The government can choose not to act, but choosing not to not only kills a lot of Australians but it costs billions of dollars every year,” Bradley said.
“Even though fewer people are dying, more are getting injured, probably because crashes are getting more survivable thanks to car technologies and airbags. So when you have a crash what used to kill you will now just disable you or maim you.”
The AAA-commissioned report makes two estimates of the total cost of road trauma to Australian society, differing in the way they value human life.
The first estimate puts the cost of road crashes at $22.2bn annually using a “human capital approach”, which estimates a person’s economic worth through lost output and earnings.
The second approach places a dollar value on society’s desire to avoid injury and death by measuring how much individuals would pay to reduce their risk of harm.
Under this method, known as “willingness to pay”, that value is lost when someone dies or is injured in a crash.
The willingness to pay approach estimates a total cost of $29.7bn a year.
The cost has decreased in real terms since 2006, when the “willingness to pay” method was used to estimate a cost of $27.12bn, according to the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics.
Overall, road safety in Australia has improved dramatically since the 1980s.
But over the past two calendar years in Australia there has been a slight jump in road deaths, reversing an otherwise long-term downward trend.
The Australian road toll reached a low of 1,065 between January and November in 2014 but has since jumped twice, to 1,110 and then 1,185 for the same periods in 2015 and 2016 respectively.
The hospitalised injury rate has also increased since 2000, from 141.7 per 100,000 people to an estimated 160.3 per 100,000 people in 2013.
The AAA says the effectiveness of the government’s 10-year national road safety strategy – which aims to reduce road deaths and serious injuries by at least 30% by 2020 – is doomed to fail.
A report released earlier this year by the AAA suggested the funding from the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development for road safety would fall from a high of $18.2m in 2016-17 to $16.3m in 2020-21.
The transport minister, Darren Chester, issued a statement on Monday saying he was proud of the government’s investment in road safety.
Among other things, Chester cited $684.5m funding for the black spot program over seven years; $4.4bn for the construction, repair and upgrade of local roads; $828,000 for heavy-vehicle driver fatigue research; a $450,000 commitment to the Australian trauma registry; and $8.25m for the Ancap safety rating system for cars since May 2010.
“I am passionate about road safety and I refuse to accept that human lives are the price we have to pay for a modern road network,” Chester said.
“Funding these important road safety initiatives will continue to build on this government’s legacy to ensure Australia remains one of the safest road systems in the world,” he said.
But the AAA wants to see road funding tied directly to safety priorities. The group also wants better data collection, a re-established national office for road safety, and a review of data collected by emergency services at crash scenes.
The group has also called for the removal of tariffs to give Australians better access to safer cars.
“More than 100 Australians are killed in car crashes every month and the same number are seriously injured every day, so the significance of this problem cannot be overstated,” Bradley said.
“The social cost of road deaths is both obvious and immeasurable, however the economic implications of Australia’s road safety crisis are not,” he said.