Road toll inquiry recommends regional speed limit review

Victorian government road toll inquiry looks at speed limits and star rating systems

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ROAD TOLL: Wire safety barriers on the Western Highway. Picture: FILE

ROAD TOLL: Wire safety barriers on the Western Highway. Picture: FILE

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The inquiry has many suggestions on how to manage regional road safety.

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A NEW inquiry into Victoria's road toll found the state's yearly road fatalities could be cut to less than 200 if speed limits are reduced on poor quality roads.

Commissioned in 2019, the Inquiry into the increase in Victoria's road toll looked at why the state failed to reach its road safety targets under the previous road safety strategy, Towards Zero.

Conducted by the Legislative Council's Economy and Infrastructure Committee, 36 recommendations were made relating to road standards, data collection, driver training and behaviour, and vehicle safety.

Recommendations for regional roads included a review of all speed limits as a matter of priority. The government was also urged to report its road maintenance priorities, including a predicted star rating for all road projects.

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Wimmera Southern Mallee Regional Transport Group chair Kevin Erwin said while road safety concerns were welcomed, Wimmera and Southern Mallee were often overlooked due to a lack of traffic volume.

"A lot of these roads weren't built or designed for a safe system approach. So there is a lot of work to be done to widen the narrow seals and safety barriers - before our roads can be somewhat safer," he said.

Mr Erwin said he understood the need for a star rating system from a governance perspective but thought it would not address the real concerns affecting regional roads.

"To have a star rating is probably an easy out for a government - to say 'we'll just put the stars on the road and that will do it' and force road users to slow down instead of fixing the road and fixing the problem," he said.

"If you put a star rating on it we probably have a lot of one-star rated roads in the area, unfortunately."

Having worked on the Wimmera Southern Mallee Regional Transport Group and Western Highway Committee, Mr Erwin said a lack of funding and low traffic volumes are what hurts the region's roads the most.

"There's a fair bit of work to do and there's a fair bit of money required to do it," he said.

"We have tried to apply for a substantial amount of funding to fix some of the narrow seals, and we didn't get there. Dollars are what is required to fix some of the roads here.

"The government schemes that come out, a lot of the time we (Wimmera and Southern Mallee) do not fit the criteria because we do not have the volume.

"They have spent a lot of money fixing level crossings in Melbourne, and no doubt they are needed too, but you still have accidents and deaths in country areas. Until they put some serious dollars toward it the problem is still going to be there."

ROADS: Cr Kevin Erwin said Wimmera roads had trouble accessing funding due to low traffic volume. Picture: FILE

ROADS: Cr Kevin Erwin said Wimmera roads had trouble accessing funding due to low traffic volume. Picture: FILE

Economy and Infrastructure Committee chair Enver Erdogan said using a star rating system alongside community consultation would help bring the state's road toll down.

"A star safety rating for roads exists, with one-star being the least safe and five-star being the safest," he said.

"Research suggests fatalities and serious injuries are halved for each incremental improvement to the road's condition."

Shadow Minister for Rural Roads Roma Britnell called the inquiry's findings and suggestion to lower speed limits a "band-aid solution".

Ms Britnell said the Victorian government needed to have a "holistic approach" to regional road safety and thought the inquiry failed to recognise poor road surfaces as a factor in road fatalities.

"Labor needs to look at the problem as a whole and actually invest in fixing road surfaces to make them safer for motorists, not just stick up a sign and walk away," she said.

"It's a lazy option and isn't the way to fix safety issues on our roads."

The committee also encouraged cooperation between the state's road safety partners and more transparent data collection.

Other areas addressed included improved community engagement when installing wire rope barriers and laws that address driver behaviour.

For more information on the inquiry, visit https://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/eic-lc/article/4296.

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