About 100 people attended the Wheatbelt Highway Safety Review public forum organised by the Office of Road Safety on Thursday night, in an effort to reduce the road toll on the Wheabelt region’s highways.
The forum came after road safety experts toured some of the most dangerous sections of the Great Eastern Highway in a bid to gain an insight into how to cut the Wheatbelt’s rising road toll.
WA’s acting road safety commissioner Kim Papalia, head of the newly formed Road Safety Commission, was joined by technical experts from WA Police and Main Roads on the two-day tour as part of the safety review.
The minister for road safety Liza Harvey opened the forum in Merredin by providing some statistics.
The number of fatalities in the Wheatbelt is noticeably higher by percentage than any other region.
“There has been a misconception in the community that a lot of these crashes in the Wheatbelt are tourists, people who don’t know the roads and that’s wrong,” Ms Harvey said.
“These are local people dying on local roads.”
The forum focused on road deaths and injuries on the highways, not shire-controlled roads within the region.
While the majority of attendees were from government organisations, there were many community people who wanted to have an input.
With the forum being held in Merredin, the majority of issues raised were in respect to the Great Eastern Highway.
“There has been a misconception in the community that a lot of these crashes in the Wheatbelt are tourists, people who don’t know the roads and that’s wrong. These are local people dying on local roads.”- Road Safety Minister Liza Harvey
Some of those were long-term and expensive, such as making the Great Eastern Highway a dual carriageway from Perth to Kalgoorlie.
Some suggested more maintenance of the gravel road verges would alleviate some of the issues.
There was support for educational campaigns, including roadside signage to promote safe driving issues.
This was in addition to some sort of effort to change driver attitudes, particularly of some local people who still have the attitude of “she’ll be right”, speeding and drink driving.
The forum heard that just because there was no public transport it did not make it right to drink and drive.
Ms Harvey said she thought the forum was productive.
“Sitting down with local members of the community and getting local input from those people was very beneficial,” Ms Harvey said.
“There were a number of issues highlighted during the forum as reasons for the lack of Wheatbelt road safety.
“These included driver behaviour and attitude, speeding and enforcement.”
Poor driving skills was also highlighted as an issue with optional training being made available for drivers as one idea and another being a requirement to pass a mandatory advanced driving course as part of getting an initial driver’s licence.
The regular testing of all drivers’ skills every five years was also mooted.
This was in response to the fact that most fatal accidents involved single vehicle incidents where they either left the road and hit something or over-corrected when they ran onto the gravel verge and crashed.
It was pointed out it would be a lot safer for a driver who did wander onto the gravel to drive along the verge until it was safe, then merge back onto the bitumen, even if that involved running over a guide post; that would be a better option than over-correcting and crashing the car.
Other points included the provision of more passing lanes along with making rumble strips along the sides and middle of the road to make drivers aware they were wandering out of their lane or off the road.
Speeding and inattention were also considered major issues.
Others were localised such as fixing particular trouble spots.
“This Wheatbelt Highway Review won’t just call on experts, we will engage those who know the roads and the issues intimately – the local community which travels these roads every day."- Road Safety Minister Liza Harvey
Ms Harvey said she had great appreciation for the response the review had from the Wheatbelt areas.
“(We are) determined to do all we can to ensure the tragedy experienced on Wheatbelt roads in 2014 is not repeated – that is why we initiated this new approach,” she said.
“Each organisation does all it can to reduce road trauma but by literally inspecting these notorious stretches of road together we anticipate developing a number of initiatives to improve road safety across a range of expert fields.
“This Wheatbelt Highway Review won’t just call on experts, we will engage those who know the roads and the issues intimately – the local community which travels these roads every day.
“And I have been overwhelmed as to how receptive Wheatbelt communities have been.”
The highway safety review is still open for input from the community and people are encouraged to do so by going to www.rsc.wa.gov.au/wheatbeltreview.
This year Fairfax WA, publisher of the Merredin Wheatbelt Mercury, has been running a campaign to help reduce the increasing road toll on the state’s roads.
#ArriveAlive is an online campaign, designed to help motorists take care on the roads to help them get safely to their destination.
Follow this link to read about the #ArriveAlive campaign and see stories relating to road safety