Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Governmental leadership over road deaths

Today I'd like to discuss governmental leadership. There is a group of governmental organizations that have shown excellent leadership over the last 40 years. Their mission has been to save lives on the roads of Australia.

When I lived there, the total number of road deaths was featured at the top of the first page of the daily newspaper. In a perfect example of 'That which is measured is improved' this number was looked at by millions of people every day.

Seat belts were made mandatory in 1970 and that number dropped significantly. The acceptable blood alcohol level for driving was set at 0.05% and serious fines and jail time was instituted. And, in a move that would cause ACLU members to blanch, road blocks were set up randomly to pull over people to test their levels.

A Traffic Black Spot system was put into play where dangerous intersections, defined as having at least one serious accident a year for the last three years, were given money to be redesigned for safety. See the below link for an example of this.

Spending money on Black Spots is a great use of the Pareto principle where 20% of the intersections are causing 80% of the deaths. A few million spent here is saving billions elsewhere in addition to saving lives.

One of the more visible facets is the graphic advertising campaign that a government owned organization called TAC places on TV to scare people into driving safely. Below is a compilation video which aired during the Christmas driving season, a time similar to the Memorial day or Independence day weekends in the US for high road deaths. The video is graphic so be prepared to cringe at some of the images.
If you liked the compilation, follow the links to the individual videos.

How effective have these tactics been? Look at the graph below. It shows the amount of road deaths per 100,000 people over time. Notice the big drop in 1970 when seat belts were made mandatory. See the way road deaths have dropped far more than American road deaths over the same period. (Light Blue dots)
Click on the graph for an enlarged view, then press the back key to return.

Citizens pay taxes to governments in exchange for safety and conveniences. The government builds roads for us, institutes laws to govern safe behaviors on these roads and hires officers of the law to enforce these laws. Is the slight loss of rights, (random road stops testing drivers for a blood alcohol levels of greater than 0.05%) too high a price to pay for the increase in safety on our roads? With my oldest son turning 17 soon, I don't think so. Especially after watching that video.


  1. There should be a ZERO alcohol level when driving a car. Take away all the guessing from people that "think they are just under the limit". Driving and drinking do not mix.

    A lot of drink drivers are re-offenders, so loss of license and fine does not deter them. If your license is taken away, you can still drive a car and that happens very often here in Australia.

    There is only 1 solution, Zero alcohol and if you do get caught your car should be impounded. Get a few of those mobile car crushers and on a lovely Saturday or Sunday, in the middle of town, witnessed by the drink driver ( he get's a special front row seat) and the rest of town, crush the car. Doesn't matter if the car is old or new, crush it. I reckon that most people would love to go and watch and I think people would think twice before getting into a car under the influence of alcohol(or drugs)

    It's an easy solution and a fun afternoon for the town folk who know there will be 1 car less on the roads.

  2. I don't agree, Wim.
    If I want to have a glass of wine with my dinner and drive home, I should be allowed. Moderation in everything is the key.
    But the limit should be lower. In Australia, I remember it being 0.05% but in many places in the US it is 0.08% or even 0.10%. That is just way too high.
    I do like your car-crushing idea for people caught over the limit, though.