Road sign safety crusade

Bid to improve road sign safety systems


"Main Roads review themselves, but that isn't good enough."

Lara Jensen with her three children, Gordon (left), Alice (right) and holding Matilda. Photo: Crystal Sirrine.

Lara Jensen with her three children, Gordon (left), Alice (right) and holding Matilda. Photo: Crystal Sirrine.

ONE life lost is one too many - that is the blunt message of The Nationals WA Transport spokesman Vince Catania, who claims inadequate road signage has contributed to numerous deaths on Western Australia's regional roads.

Mr Catania recently launched a petition for the State government to have an independent, bipartisan committee conduct a review into the road signage policies and practices of Main Roads.

"Main Roads review themselves, but that isn't good enough," Mr Catania said.

"We need an independent review so we can hear evidence from the community and the transport sector to find out how we can improve road signage and safety on our roads.

"This is particularly important for our regional roads when it comes to road works and dangerous stretches of road for our travelling public, trucking industry and tourists."

Mr Catania said the campaign was spurred by a tragic incident in the Pilbara in June 2017, which killed couple Mark and Lara Dawson.

Driving a loaded cattle truck on Great Northern Highway, pastoralist Kimberley De Pledge crashed into the back of a caravan being towed by the couple, sending the four wheel drive onto the other side of the highway and into oncoming traffic.

The couple's two teenage children, Jack, then 16 and Larissa, then 14, who were seated in the back of the car, survived the incident with minor injuries.

Lara Jensen met with Vince Catania on the 20th anniversary of her brothers death this month to discuss the circulation of his safer road signs petition.

Lara Jensen met with Vince Catania on the 20th anniversary of her brothers death this month to discuss the circulation of his safer road signs petition.

Mr De Pledge was sentenced to almost four years jail with Judge Amanda Burrows saying the crash could have been avoided had he maintained a safe distance from the caravan.

However, speaking to Farm Weekly, Mr De Pledge's father Joe believes inadequate road signage was a major contributing factor to the accident.

"About a kilometre from the bridge there was a sign up to say 'rough surface ahead', so a motorist or a truckie would expect the rough surface to be maybe a bit of gravel or loose bitumen, but this was a serious gap," Mr De Pledge said.

"The truckie in front who was a regular user of the road and knew about that gap slowed down to around 17 kilometres per hour - so that's how bad it was.

"It should have been a 40km/h zone, not a 60km/h zone."

When the five-day trial into the incident was held in the South Hedland District Court in 2017, the court heard that some of the speed signs warning of the reduced speed limit were lying flat on the road.

"Had those speed signs been fixed in place and there been more adequate road signage we believe those two lives may not have been lost and my own son wouldn't be living with his own life sentence," Mr De Pledge said.

He has supported Mr Catania's campaign, saying having Main Roads being part of an investigation into the conduct of its own department was "not right" and that WorkSafe should have completed the investigation instead.

The late Christian Jensen with sister Lara Jensen who is petitioning for better road signage on WA roads.

The late Christian Jensen with sister Lara Jensen who is petitioning for better road signage on WA roads.

"The main road is a workplace for truckies and delivery drivers so I'm very upset that WorkSafe won't have a look at this incident," Mr De Pledge said.

However Transport Minister Rita Saffioti said while Main Roads was the statutory body responsible for investigating if the road environment contributed to the cause and severity of crashes, WA Police was the statutory body responsible for investigating fatal crashes on the roads network.

"Main Roads did not conduct an investigation into its own conduct, it investigated the fatal crash in co-ordination with WA Police, as per standard practice, to determine if the road environment contributed to the cause or severity of the crash," Ms Saffioti said.

"The agency then conducted a separate review of its temporary traffic signage policy to ensure it adequately enforced correct practice by road workers."

Ms Saffioti said Main Roads had since made improvements to further enhance traffic management practices on work sites including amendments to the Traffic Management for Works on Roads Code of Practice.

These amendments included "greater guidance for securely mounting signs, the installation of semi-permanent signage on permanent posts for long-term works, review of work practices to ensure appropriate temporary speed limits and reinforcement of responsibilities/issuing of non-conformances to traffic management companies where appropriate".

"Main Roads requires that major works on its roads are managed with traffic management that is conducted in a consistent and safe manner, while ensuring efficient traffic flow," Ms Saffioti said.

However Lara Jensen whose brother, Christian, died 20 years ago when his vehicle collided with a grain freight train at a railway level crossing near Jennacubbine said Main Roads still needed a complete overhaul of its road signage practices.

Mr Jensen's passengers Jessica-Lea Broad and Hilary Smith were also killed instantly when a Westrail train pulling 28 wagons collided with their Toyota LandCruiser.

Ms Jensen believes had there been a stop sign at the railway crossing and more adequate lighting on the train, the three young adults taken in the prime of their lives would still be here today.

At just 20-years-old, Christian had just started an apprenticeship in Perth and the three friends were on their way to a 21st birthday party at the Jennacubbine Tavern.

The fact that the accident followed the death of a man three years earlier at the same railway crossing has caused further anguish for friends and family of the deceased.

"There was a crash in March 1997 and, at that time, a road safety audit concluded that the signage did not meet the requirements of Australian standards," Ms Jensen told Farm Weekly.

"They did make some changes, but they recommended that there should have been lighting there, which there wasn't at the time of my brother's accident and there were only give way signs as opposed to stop signs.

"That railway crossing now has flashing lights in place, but the fact is it took four people to be killed in one place for them to actually make any considerable change."

Following the second accident, a coronial inquest by then State coroner Alistair Hope recommended that an external auxiliary lighting device be fitted relatively high up on WA's locomotives to provide an effective warning to motor vehicle drivers, but this recommendation has not been implemented by the Department of Transport.

"At every railway crossing every driver should be prepared for imminent danger because those loaded freight trains are the most poorly lit, dangerous vehicles out there," Ms Jensen said.

In the years since the accident, Ms Jensen has become a foot soldier in the campaign to make WA roads safer and recently met with Mr Catania to discuss the petition.

With Main Roads using contractors to conduct much of its work throughout WA, Mr Catania said it was important the organisation be held to account for ensuring that road signage was clearly displayed and appropriate for the area in which it is placed.

"If road works have been completed those signs need to be picked up in a timely manner and the indication of roads works ahead and speeds for those areas need to be appropriate," Mr Catania said.

"There are too many variations when it comes to road signage, so it's about having a review to make sure that we have those best practices in place."

Mr Catania said an independent inquiry that garners evidence from the public would also help quell any fears of backlash by Main Roads, which grants permits to transport companies.

The petition, which at the time of writing had more than 1000 signatures, is planned to be presented to parliament in August so a review can potentially be carried out before the next State election.

Comment by RITA SAFFIOTI Transport Minister

MY deepest sympathies go out to the families who have lost loved ones on regional roads.

The Transport Portfolio works closely with the Road Safety Commission to comprehensively examine and mitigate the many factors which contribute to road trauma.

One of the main causes of regional road trauma is run-off crashes, which is why the State government is rolling out its Regional Road Safety Program.

This will see about 1400 kilometres of roads treated with shoulder sealing and audible edge lines.

We are investing a record amount in regional road projects that will improve safety.

In relation to the Pilbara crash, the guidelines for signage for roadworks were strengthened, particularly in relation to the permanency of signs and how those signs are stabilised in windy conditions.

The story Road sign safety crusade first appeared on Farm Weekly.


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