With more than 1,000 people dying on the roads each year, Australia’s federal, state and territory governments have set ambitious targets when it comes to reducing injuries and fatalities for all road users.

What is road safety?

Road safety refers to initiatives designed to reduce road trauma for all road users. Around the world, more than half of all road traffic fatalities are among vulnerable road users such as pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists.

Australia’s National Road Safety Action Plan 2023–25 has set the target of reducing road fatalities by 50% and serious injuries by 30%. The Federal Government is working towards ‘Vision Zero’, with no person killed or seriously injured on Australian roads by 2050. Each state and territory also has a road safety strategy.

Road safety statistics

Lives lost annually on Australian roads has remained relatively steady around 1,100 to 1,200 over the last decade. Vulnerable road users such as motorcyclists, cyclists and pedestrians accounted for a third of Australia’s road fatalities in 2020, according to the National Road Safety Strategy. When it comes to serious injuries, vulnerable road users account for almost half of all incidents.

For Australian motorcycle riders, annual fatality rates per billion vehicle kilometres travelled are, on average, nearly 30 times higher than for vehicle occupants. In 2020, half of motorcycle deaths occurred in 100 and 110 km/h zones. The multi-state Motorcyclist safety: Connected motorcycle pilot project is looking to reduce this statistic, by investigating, developing and testing Co-operative Intelligent Transport Systems (C-ITS) technologies for motorcyclists.

As for pedestrians, the majority of fatalities involve a collision with a light vehicle, with children and the elderly particularly vulnerable to injury or death in a crash. The majority of pedestrian deaths occurred in 50‑60 km/h zones in 2020, while a quarter of deaths were at intersections.

It should be noted that statistics from the pandemic- and lockdown-affected years of 2020—2022 could very well have been affected by external factors, so these years may be viewed more clearly with some hindsight.

Similarly, half of Australian cyclist deaths occurred in 50-60 km/h zones and 56% occurred at intersections. Around a quarter were on higher speed roads, of 90 km/h and above, while a quarter involved a heavy vehicle.

Breaking down the demographics for 2022, males accounted for around three quarters of road fatalities. In terms of age brackets, 40—64 year-olds accounted for the largest share of fatalities – at around 30% of drivers, passengers and pedestrians. This goes above 40% for cyclists and motorcyclists.

The one exception is passenger deaths, with 17 to 35-year-olds accounting for 28% of fatalities in 2022, while every other age bracket sat at less than 20%. On a global level, the annual road fatality rate for 15—24 year olds is 50% than for other age groups.

Road safety is of particular concern in regional areas of Australia. Of the 1,193 reported deaths on Australian roads in 2022, 65% were killed in regional areas. For every 100,000 people living in a regional area, 10.6 motorists died – more than double the national average of 4.56 and almost five-times higher than the metropolitan average of 2.24.

Cooperative and Highly Automated Driving on-road demonstration (Mount Isa) 2023

ZOE2, is a Renault Zoe electric vehicle, modified with technology that takes the car up to a SAE Level 4 automated vehicle capability. It has trialled on the Mount Cotton test track, and also on the streets of Ipswich, Bundaberg, and Mt Isa, with members of the public taking the opportunity to take a ride in the car.

Read more about the project, its road safety aspects, experience of the public taking a ride in ZOE2, and more at Safely deploying automated vehicles on Australian roads.

Factors affecting road safety

Factors affecting road safety are driver behaviour, road condition, driving conditions, and the condition of vehicles. The top five causes of Australian road fatalities are speeding, distractions, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, fatigue, and failure to wear a seatbelt.

Driver behaviour is by far the most influential factor, according to international research, accounting for 61% of road accidents. Environment and infrastructure factors account for 31%, while vehicle factors account for 9%.

Dangerous driving behaviour is the biggest contributor to road trauma, followed closely by distracted, tired and drunk driving. For example, each year speeding contributes to around 41% of road fatalities and 24% of serious injuries in NSW.

As speed exceeds 30 km/h, risks of fatality for vulnerable road users increase almost exponentially. High speeds also closely correlate with risks of injury in crashes involving two or more vehicles.

Meanwhile, drink-driving causes approximately 30% of fatal crashes in Australia, with more than 1 in 4 drivers and passengers killed showing a Blood Alcohol Content over the legal limit.

The condition of roads also has a significant impact on road trauma, particularly in regional Australia.

In March 2022, a study from the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics found that the poor quality of roads in regional areas – such as poor design, repair flaws, inadequate safety treatments and insufficient infrastructure for vulnerable road users – is directly linked to the rising road fatalities in rural and remote locations.

When it comes to the condition of the vehicle, older vehicles are associated with an increased likelihood of an injury or fatality. Vehicles aged 15 years or older are disproportionately represented in fatal crash statistics and are four times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than vehicles aged zero to five years.

All this being said, it needs to be stressed that the achievement of a safe road system, in which there are zero fatalities or serious injuries, is not the responsibility of road users, rather it is of the authorities responsible for funding, creating, and operating the transport network. In The Ultimate Safe System: Redefining the Safe System Approach for Road Safety (2022), it’s laid out like this:

In road transport, the Ultimate Safe System is one in which road users cannot be killed or seriously injured regardless of their behaviour or the behaviour of other road users.

Achieving no one being killed or seriously injured requires a system in which no one can be killed or seriously injured, regardless of the errors they make. Otherwise, the system relies on road users explicitly acknowledged as fallible to not ever make various mistakes. Only with this rigorous definition is the system consistent with the fundamental meaning of a safe system and the moral imperative to deliver zero road deaths and serious injuries identified under the Safe System approach.

Associated developments, and attendant benefits additional to road safety, include “more pedestrian areas with no vehicular traffic, the provision of more public transport, or improved urban and land use planning in order to address safety issues, thus making our cities more livable and less polluted and generating fewer climate change impacts.”

Road safety initiatives / impact

As part of Australia’s commitment to a goal of zero deaths and serious injuries on the roads (Vision Zero) by 2050, the federal government has committed $43.6 million to deliver the National Road Safety Action Grants Program (NRSAGP) over four years from 2022-23.

Along with infrastructure grants, the program has five focus areas:

  • Community Education and Awareness, including workplace road safety
  • Vulnerable Road Users
  • First Nations road safety
  • Technology and Innovation
  • Research and data

A further $16.5 million is committed to the Car Safety Ratings Program to improve testing protocols for new light vehicles and provide safety evaluations for used vehicles.

Alongside improving road infrastructure, Australia has implemented a wide range of road safety initiatives and continues to do so.

Fatality numbers on Australian roads peaked at 3,798 in 1970, but began a steady decline after, as in the early 1970s, Australia became the first country in the world to legislate for compulsory seatbelt wearing in front and back seats.

Breath testing began in NSW in 1968, with a blood-alcohol limit of 0.08, which dropped to 0.05 in 1980. Random breath testing was introduced in 1985. NSW’s annual road fatalities dropped from 1,291 in 1981 to 524 in 2001, with the state Road Traffic Authority estimating that 4,367 lives were saved in that 20-year period.

Stronger graduate licensing schemes have also been introduced, such as increasing the number of driving hours required before obtaining a probationary licence and limiting the number of young passengers that probationary drivers can carry.

Other road safety initiatives have included the introduction of bike helmet laws, road safety cameras and lower speed limits in suburban areas and around zones such as schools and hospitals.

Road safety cameras operate across every Australian state and territory. As the technology improves, modern cameras are able to peer into vehicles and catch drivers committing a range of offences, such as using a mobile phone or failing to wear a seatbelt.

These initiatives have been accompanied by public safety campaigns focusing on issues such as speeding, driver distraction and fatigue, driving under the influence and awareness of vulnerable road users such as motorcyclists.

The future of road safety

Australia’s National Road Safety Strategy continues to focus on creating safer drivers, safer roads, and safer vehicles.

New technologies such as connected vehicles will also play a part in road safety, with Australia already conducting several connected vehicle road safety trials. The Advanced Connected Vehicles Victoria (ACV2) platform
warns drivers when a car is about to run a red light, or a pedestrian steps onto the road. It uses artificial intelligence to study the live feed from VicRoad’s traffic camera network to spot potential hazards, rather than relying on Vehicle to Infrastructure installations at intersections.

The system sends real-time alerts to a car’s dashboard, delivered via Telstra’s 4G mobile network. ACV2 also provides information regarding the speed limit, including advisory limits due to sharp turns, poor weather conditions or traffic congestion due to slow or stalled cars ahead.

In Queensland, the Ipswich Connected Vehicle Pilot undertook a similar trial, with the results finding that a 20% crash reduction is possible. In NSW, the Cooperative Intelligent Transport Initiative trialled a range of connected automated vehicle technologies in the Illawarra region.

How can automated and connected vehicles improve road safety?

How can automated and connected vehicles improve road safety?ROAD SAFETY

Image source: Road Safety Facts EU

Cooperative Intelligent Transport Initiative

A video overview of Transport for New South Wales’ Cooperative Intelligent Transport Initiative, a trial of numerous technologies to reduce road fatalities and serious injuries

Road safety careers

If you’re interested in pursuing a career in this area of transport, our interview series Meet Smart Mobility Experts could help guide you.

In this series we interview a number of researchers, practitioners, department of transport executives and more. Amongst other things we cover their academic background, research activity, career progression, and more.

Road safety resources

Here’s a selection of Australian strategy, policy, and project documents on the topic of road safety.

Road safety facts and figures

International Road Safety Comparisons: Australian vs the world

In terms of the fatality rate per 100,000 population in 2020:

  • Australia’s rate of 4.26 was ranked 20th out of the 36 nations. The nations with the three lowest rates were Norway (1.73), Sweden (1.98) and Iceland (2.20).
  • Between 2011 and 2020 Australia’s fatality rate declined by 25.4%. Over the same period, the OECD median rate declined by 34.6%.
  • In Australia, rates vary significantly across Remoteness Areas classifications. Major City rates have been consistently the lowest (2.03 in 2020) and Very Remote areas are consistently the highest (30.41 in 2020).

In terms of the fatality rate per 10,000 registered vehicles in 2020:

  • Australia’s rate of 0.55 was ranked 18th out of the 30 nations with available data. The nations with the three lowest rates were Norway (0.23), Iceland (0.23) and Sweden (0.32).
  • Between 2011 and 2020 Australia’s fatality rate declined by 29.2%. Over the same period, the OECD median rate declined by 33.7%.

In terms of the fatality rate per 100 million vehicle kilometres travelled (VKT) in 2020:

  • Australia’s rate of 0.44 was ranked 9th out of 15 nations with available data. The nations with the three lowest rates were Iceland (0.21), Norway (0.21) and Sweden (0.26).
  • Between 2011 and 2020 Australia’s fatality rate declined by 19.1%. Over the same period, the OECD median rate declined by 25.3%.

In Australia in 2020, vulnerable road users (motorcyclist, pedestrian or cyclist) accounted for 35.0 per cent of total road deaths. This is low compared to most other OECD countries. For the OECD in total, this percentage is 44.2%.

Source: Bureau of Infrastructure and Transport Research Economics (BITRE) – International road safety comparisons 2020

Pedestrians and road safety

  • Pedestrians aged 75 and older are overrepresented in both fatalities and hospitalised injuries.
  • Male pedestrians are more than twice as likely as female pedestrians to be fatally injured in a road crash for all age groups except those aged 65 and older.
  • While major cities have the highest number of fatal pedestrian crashes of any location, the rate per 100,000 people is the lowest. Conversely, very remote regions have the lowest number of fatal pedestrian crashes of any location but the highest fatality rate per 100,000 people.
  • Over 60% of fatal pedestrian crashes occur where the posted speed limit is 50 or 60km/h.
  • Crashes involving a pedestrian fatality peak between 6pm and 8:59pm on weekdays, and between 12am and 2:59am on weekends.

Source: Bureau of Infrastructure and Transport Research Economics (BITRE) Pedestrians and road safety factsheet (2015)

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Contact iMOVE

iMOVE’s mission is to advance the development and adoption of technologies that will improve Australia’s transport systems, through high impact R&D collaborations.

There’s still a lot of work to be done to make Australian transport systems better, more efficient, safer, and more inclusive. If you’d like to talk to us about any R&D work in the area of road safety please get in touch with us to start a discussion.

iMOVE road safety projects

iMOVE, along with its partners, is active in carrying out R&D to improve road safety in Australian transport.

Please find below the three latest smart mobility projects. Or click to view all iMOVE’s road safety projects.

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iMOVE road safety PhD projects

In addition to iMOVE and its partners’ smart mobility projects listed above, as part of our Industry PhD Program businesses, universities and PhD students work on an agreed topic over a three-year period.

These are the three most recent PhD projects that have been undertaken on the topic of road safety. Click to view all iMOVE’s road safety PhD projects.

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iMOVE road safety articles

In addition to projects, iMOVE also publishes articles, thoughtpieces, case studies, etc. that cover the many issues and solutions around road safety.

Below are the three most recent articles. Or click to view all iMOVE’s road safety articles.

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