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6. Road Safety Programs and Road Trauma

6.1 Introduction

The year 1970 is significant for road safety in Australia. Road fatalities peaked in 1970 and modern public safety programs began with the mandatory fitting of safety belts in all new vehicles. Since then, public safety programs of many kinds have been progressively introduced and road fatalities have declined steadily. By the late 1990s, total fatalities on roads had halved and fatalities per registered vehicle had fallen by 80 per cent.

In this chapter we start by outlining the main road safety programs and expenditures in Australia since 1970. We then estimate the overall impact of these programs on fatalities and hospitalisations and summarise selected studies of the relationships between particular road safety programs and road accidents. The last two main sections of the chapter provide estimates of the benefits of road safety programs and an overall economic evaluation of road safety programs.

6.2 Main Road Safety Programs

There are many kinds of road safety programs.

  • Road improvements: e.g. construction of divided roads, treatment of accident black spots, sealing of road shoulders, and improved road signage.
  • Vehicle improvements: e.g. improved brakes and steering, installation of seat belts and air cushions, and cruise control.
  • Controls on driver behaviour: notably regulations on vehicle speeds and drinking and driving, supported by enforcement instruments, for example speed cameras and random breath testing.
  • Education programs designed to promote voluntary safe driving: e.g. fatigue management.
  • A variety of related programs: e.g. road management (such as restrictions on right hand turns), local area traffic management schemes that reduce traffic speeds, mandatory motor cycle and bicycle helmets, and development of driver competency.

The main interest in this study is the total impact of road safety programs on driver behaviour by regulation or by voluntary change.1 However, the line between these and other road safety programs is not always a clear one. And, indeed, the line between road safety programs and general technical improvements in road and vehicle engineering is not always clear.

Table 6.1 shows major road safety programs introduced in Australia since 1970. Given the large number of such programs, the list is inevitably selective.

Table 6.1: Selected Major Road Safety Programs 1970-99

Year

Road safety program

1970

Mandatory fitting of seat belts in new passenger vehicles.

1973

All States and Territories require wearing of fitted seat belts in motor vehicles and helmets for motor cycle riders and passengers.

1976

Laws introduced to restrain children and babies in motor vehicles.
Random breath testing (RBT) introduced into Victoria.

1980

Introduction of 0.05 gm / 100ml blood alcohol concentration law in NSW.
RBT introduced in NT. Limited breath testing introduced in WA.

1981

RBT introduced in SA.

1982

RBT introduced in NSW and ACT.

1983

RBT introduced in Tasmania.

1984

NSW initiated Neighbourhood Road Safety Program.

1986

First phase of NSW government program to reduce traffic speeds.
Victoria introduced speed cameras.
Reduce Intoxicated Driving program introduced in Queensland.

1987

NSW published guidelines for local area traffic management, inc. 40 km/h speed limits.
Monash University Accident Research Centre established primarily for road safety research.

Late 1980's

Major mass-media campaigns to improve road safety including speed reduction, seatbelt use, and avoidance of drink driving.

1988

RBT introduced in Queensland and WA.

1989

Federal Office of Road Safety released Ten-Point Safety Plan. Included 'black spot' elimination, research and public education, and establishment of national Road Trauma Advisory Council.
Victoria reintroduced 100 km/h limit on freeways and introduced new speed cameras and RBT booze buses.

1990-92

Legislation requiring wearing of bicycle helmets. Victoria first in 1990.

1990-93

Commonwealth government ‘Black Spot’ program, $270m. Included 3176 projects at average cost of $85,000.

1990-94

Federal and State funded media campaigns to raise community awareness of the dangers associated with drink driving.
Increased levels of random breath testing and reduced alcohol limits.

1991

NSW introduced radar speed cameras in dangerous metropolitan locations.

1991-92

Victoria and NSW issues detailed programs of road safety organisation and strategies together with targets.

1992

Victoria allocated $75 million to remove black spots over two years.
National Road Safety Strategy introduced. States focussed on alcohol and driving, speeding, driver fatigue, and road hazards.
Act and NRMA establish a Road Safety Trust to promote road safety.

1996

National Road Safety Action Plan. Contained 10 Priority Actions.

1996-00

New Commonwealth five year Black Spot Program ($187 million).
NSW focuses on speed control enforcement with increased speeding fines and double demerit points for speed infringements over public holidays.

1998

Northern Territory introduces speed cameras.
Queensland increased speed camera sites from 600 to 2400 in December and implemented a 50 km/h speed limit on streets in S.E.Queensland..

Some highlights of the road safety programs were:

  • The mandatory fitting and use of seat belts in the early 1970s.
  • The introduction and general extension of random breath testing from 1976 through the 1980s.
  • Reductions in vehicle speed limits and increased enforcement of speed restrictions from the mid-1980s through the 1990s.
  • The Commonwealth’s support for black spot road improvement programs in the early and late 1990s.

Significantly, all of these programs were part of a steady increase in road safety measures over the 30-year period. Many programs were introduced incrementally over several years. For example, random breath testing (RBT) programs were progressively intensified and refined from the late 1970s to the 1990s. In most States, traffic speeds were increasingly controlled from the mid-1980s onwards (see, for example, controls in New South Wales, Croft, 1993).

When specific road safety programs are a small part of a large and continuous development of road safety, the contribution of each element to overall safety improvement is not easily identified. Most programs were introduced with media publicity. However, the intensity of the media programs varied and data on media campaigns are incomplete (Henstridge et al. 1997). Moreover, the effectiveness of regulations depends on how they are enforced. But the level of enforcement of regulations varies considerably over time and across difference parts of Australia. (Hakkert and McGann, 1996).

Another feature of road safety programs is the importance of the States and Territories in developing and enforcing programs. Over the study period, Victoria and New South Wales had the most intensive safety programs. Analysis of specific programs must therefore be done generally at State or Territory level.

6.3 Expenditures on Road Safety Programs

Estimating expenditures on road safety programs is complicated for several reasons. For a start, there is no standard definition of a road safety program. Second, most road safety programs are the responsibilities of the States and Territories. Moreover, within the States and Territories, several agencies are often responsible for aspects of road safety programs, for example the main transport or road authority, the police, local government, and sometimes a special safety agency. Third, the State road authorities generally publish few details on their road safety programs.

Thus, estimating expenditures on road safety programs over 30 years from the early 1970s would be a large research task in its own right and beyond the scope of this study. In order to understand the issues and numbers involved, we examine some data that we have obtained from publications in four States and make some order-of-magnitude estimates of historical expenditures on road safety programs across Australia.

South Australia has possibly the most comprehensive budget for road safety expenditures. In 1998-99, South Australia spent $85 million (about 20 per cent of its total road related expenditures) on road safety. This figure includes payments for police services, register information for vehicle and driver enforcement, small expenditures on accident black spots, and accident investigations (see Table 6.2). However, much of this expenditure is general traffic and vehicle administration. Specific road safety programs comprise only a small part of the road safety budget.

By comparison, in 1992-93, Transport South Australia spent $34 million on the State’s road safety program, which was less than half the amount in 1998-99.2 Moreover, three-quarters of this program ($25 million) was expenditure on traffic engineering and black spots. Only $5 million was spent on road user safety and $4 million on vehicle operations. Presumably the definition of a road safety program was narrower in 1992-93 than in 1998-99.

Table 6.2 Road safety expenditures in South Australia in 1998-99

Category of expenditure

$m

Road user safety

 

Mass media expenditure

5.1

Road safety promotional materials

1.6

Payment for police services

14.7

Fee collection and transaction processing for other agencies

13.6

Register information for vehicle and driver enforcement

12.4

Other enhanced enforcement activities

14.3

Total

61.8

Road safety education

 

Driver training and school education

1.0

Road safety environment

 

Accident black spots

3.5

Accident investigation and prevention

17.3

Road safety audits

1.6

Speed management

0.1

Total

22.5

Road safety development

0.1

Grand total

85.4

Source: Transport South Australia, communication to Applied Economics,

In New South Wales, the Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) spent $311 million on road safety and traffic management in 1998-99 (14 per cent of its total budget).3 Road safety and traffic management included improvements to the behaviour of road users through public and school education campaigns, traffic management planning, improvements in pedestrian and cyclist safety, and treatment of local area black spots. In addition, the RTA spent $248 million on driver and vehicle policy and regulation (another 11 per cent of RTA’s budget).

There are some comparable data for the 1990s but few data for earlier years. RTA expenditure on road safety and traffic management totaled $48 million in 1989/90 and $57 million in 1990/91 (about 3 per cent of total RTA expenditure). Motor traffic services totaled $109 million and $133 million in these two years respectively (another 7 per cent of RTA expenditures). However, by 1996-97, expenditure on road safety and traffic management had risen to $305 million and expenditure on driver and vehicle policy and regulation was $197 million. As for South Australia, it is not clear how much of this increase in expenditure was increased expenditure on road safety and how much reflected changes in definitions of road safety programs. Also, the figures for road safety and traffic management are sensitive to capital expenditure on black spots.

In Victoria, current reporting distinguishes between road safety and traffic management. In 1997-98, Vic Roads spent $39 million on road safety, $69 million on traffic and road use management, and $75 million on registration and licensing. The figures in 1996/97 were similar. The $39 million expenditure on road safety represented slightly less than 4 per cent of the total Victorian roads budget of about $1.1 billion.

Reported expenditure on transport safety in Queensland totaled $65 million in 1992-93, $44 million in 1993-94, and $15 million in 1994-95.4 These expenditures cover all transport modes, but relate mainly to roads (which has a total budget of about $1.0 billion). The decline in road safety expenditure over these three years reflects a fall in Commonwealth funding for the black spot program. Comparable figures for expenditure on transport safety are not given in the Department of Transport’s latest (1998-99) annual report.

In summary, definitions of transport safety expenditure vary over time and across States. Excluding traffic management and vehicle policy and regulation from the NSW figures, NSW and South Australia currently spend about $300 million a year on road safety. On the other hand, using apparently narrower definitions of road safety, Victoria and Queensland spend about $60 million a year.5 In relation to road budgets, reported expenditure on road safety varies from 3 per cent to 20 per cent of the road budget. For this evaluation, we allow that current Australia-wide expenditure on road safety is in the order of $600 million per annum, which is slightly less than 10 per cent of national road-related expenditures. This is evidently an order-of-magnitude estimate. The sensitivity of the estimated benefits of safety programs to higher and lower expenditure figures is examined below.

From our limited historical data on road safety programs, expenditure on road safety has increased. For the evaluation, we allow that real national expenditure on road safety in the 1970s up to the mid-1980s was half the level of the late 1990s (i.e. $300 million per annum). We allow a gradual increase in real expenditures from the mid-1980s (see Table 6.10).

6.4 Reductions in Accidents due to Road Safety Programs: Overview

Road fatalities

Fatalities from road crashes in Australia rose steadily from 1925 to 1970, when they peaked at 3798 fatalities. Fatalities then declined to 1758 by 1998 (see Figure 6.1). Historical details are shown in Annex F.

On the other hand, road fatalities per registered road vehicle have fallen steadily from 1925 through 1970 right up to the present. Figures 6.2 and 6.3 show fatalities per 10 000 registered road vehicles on an arithmetic and logarithmic scale respectively.

Figure 6.1 Fatalities from road accidents 1925-99

Figure 6.2 Fatalities per 10,000 vehicles 1925-97

Figure 6.3 Log of fatalities per 100,000 vehicles 1925-97

In this study we analyse road safety in terms of crashes per registered vehicle. Because road use increases with registered vehicles, crashes per registered vehicle are a proxy for crashes per unit of distance travelled. This standardises accident data relative to the risk of accidents.

We also examine the percentage change in fatalities per registered road vehicle rather than the absolute change in fatalities. It is easier to save 10 lives when there are 4000 fatalities a year than when there are 2000 fatalities. Thus, the percentage change in fatalities (and in other road accidents) is considered a better measure of the effectiveness of road safety programs.

Table 6.3 shows the percentage changes in fatalities per 10 000 registered road vehicles over 10 year periods from 1925. The rate of decline in fatalities was much greater after 1975 than before (although the decline was nearly as high between 1925 and 1935). This result is mirrored in Figure 6.3, which shows the log of fatalities per 10 000 vehicles. The slope of the line, which represents the rate of change in fatalities at any point in time, increases from about 1970 when the new wave of road safety programs was introduced

Table 6.3 The decline in road fatalities in Australia 1925-95

Year

Fatalities per 10,000 registered vehicles

Per cent decline in fatalities per 10,000 registered vehicles in previous 10 years

1925

22.9

 

1935

16.0

-30.1

1945

11.9

-25.6

1955

9.6

-19.3

1965

8.5

-12.5

1975

5.8

-31.8

1985

3.2

-44.8

1995

1.6

-50.0

Source: Federal Office of Road Safety, 1998.

One way to estimate the effect of the road safety programs introduced after 1970 is to use a dummy variable for the post-1970 period. Following Wang et al. (1999), the percentage change in fatalities per 1000 vehicles can be modeled in terms of a trend variable and a dummy variable to represent the introduction of road safety programs.6 For example, let

Log (F/V) = a + bY + cD

(6.1)

where F is the number of road fatalities, V is registered vehicles in 1000’s, Y is the time trend, and D is zero up to 1970 and one from 1971 onwards. The results are:

Log (F/V)

= 3.2

– 0.029Y

– 0.216D

 

(6.2)

 

(64.4)

(-15.9)

(-2.7)

adj.R2 = 0.939

 

where the figures in brackets are t-statistics. The adjusted R2 is high and all coefficients have the expected sign and are statistically significant at the 5 per cent level. Equation (6.2) indicates that fatalities per 1000 vehicles fell by 2.9 per cent per annum and that the road safety programs reduced fatalities by a further 21.6 per cent below the trend level.

However, Equation (6.2) implies that road safety programs reduced road fatalities by 21.6 per cent below the trend level in every year from 1971 onwards. This is not a realistic interpretation of the data. It is more likely that road safety programs had a progressive impact, small at first and increasing over the period. To model this process, Wang et al. introduce an extra regressorthe interaction between D and Y, as in:

Log (F/V) = a + bY + cD + dDY

(6.3)

and obtain the following results:

Log (F/V)

= 3.0

– 0.023Y

+ 1.669D – 0.036DY

 

(6.4)

(116.4)

(-23.3)

(12.4)

(-14.7)

adj.R2 = 0.985

 

The R2 is now 0.985 and all coefficients again have the expected sign and are statistically significant at the 5 per cent level. Wang et al (1999) show graphically that Equation (6.4) represents the data better than Equation (6.2), i.e. it has less serial correlation, although they do not give quantitative serial correlation diagnostics.

In order to interpret Equation (6.4), note that Y = 47 in year 1971. This means that when the effects of the D and DY regressors are combined, there is an estimated decline in fatalities in 1971 even though the coefficient for D is positive (1.669).

Equation (6.4) implies that a long-term trend decline in fatalities per 1000 registered vehicles of 2.3 per cent per annum. This trend reflects the general improvements in roads and vehicles and increased driver skills and experience that have occurred ever since the introduction of motor vehicles. In addition, road safety programs of various kinds introduced since 1970 have reduced road fatalities per 1000 registered vehicles by an estimated 3.6 per cent per annum. In effect, the road safety programs since 1970 have been responsible for just over 60 per cent of the reductions in road fatalities per 1000 registered vehicles.

Of course, this analysis is broad-brush. As far as we are aware, no one has developed a multivariate explanatory model of road safety for Australia.7 In a recent econometric model of road safety in Israel, Beenstock and Gafni (2000) conclude that most of the decline in road accidents is due to the global influence of technical progress in vehicle design rather than to local factors. However, as a proxy for the quality of the vehicle fleet in Israel the authors use a ‘world accident rate variable’ which is a weighted average of the accident rates in five major countries. This proxy is not satisfactory because these accident rates presumably also reflect local factors. On the other hand, several case studies of Australian road safety programs cited below support the view that road safety programs accounted for the order of half the decline in fatalities from road crashes since 1970.

For our central case evaluation in Section 6.7 we allow that road safety programs were responsible for half of the reductions in fatalities after 1970 (see Table 6.4 and Figure 6.4). We estimate that, without the road safety programs, there would have been 2783 fatalities in 1997 compared with the actual figure of 1768 fatalities. In round numbers, the road safety

Table 6.4 Fatalities and hospitalisations due to road accidents

Year

Fatalities
(no.)

Fatalities per
10,000 vehicles

Persons
Hospitaliseda

Estimates:
no safety programs

Savings due to
safety programs

       

Fatalities

Hospitalisations

Fatalities

Hospitalisations

1970

3798

7.96

32283

3798

32283

0

0

1971

3590

7.12

30515

3694

31399

104

884

1972

3422

6.43

29087

3610

30685

188

1598

1973

3679

6.53

31272

3739

31777

60

506

1974

3572

5.97

30719

3685

31501

113

782

1975

3694

5.82

32138

3746

32210

52

73

1976

3583

5.44

31530

3691

31907

108

376

1977

3578

5.25

31844

3688

32064

110

219

1978

3705

5.21

33345

3752

32814

47

-531

1979

3508

4.77

31923

3653

32103

145

180

1980

3272

4.32

30102

3535

31193

263

1090

1981

3321

4.19

30885

3560

31584

239

699

1982

3252

3.90

30654

3525

31469

273

815

1983

2755

3.21

28080

3277

30182

522

2102

1984

2822

3.19

28794

3310

30539

488

1745

1985

2941

3.23

29248

3370

30766

429

1518

1986

2888

3.11

29169

3343

30726

455

1557

1987

2772

2.96

29698

3285

30991

513

1293

1988

2887

3.02

29705

3343

30994

456

1289

1989

2801

2.86

28460

3300

30372

499

1912

1990

2331

2.31

24961

3065

28622

734

3661

1991

2113

2.13

22528

2956

27406

843

4878

1992

1974

1.93

21512

2886

26898

912

5386

1993

1953

1.87

21557

2876

26920

923

5363

1994

1928

1.80

22133

2863

27208

935

5075

1995

2017

1.84

22368

2908

27326

891

4958

1996

1970

1.77

21935

2884

27109

914

5174

1997

1768

1.58

21531

2783

26907

1015

5376

1998

1758

 

   

(1020)

(5450)

1999

1759

 

   

(1030)

(5550)

Projections

           

2000

1727

 

21036

2763

26659

1035

5624

2001

1696

 

20657

2747

26470

1051

5813

2002

1666

 

20285

2732

26284

1066

5999

2003

1636

 

19920

2717

26102

1081

6181

2004

1606

 

19562

2702

25922

1096

6361

2005

1577

 

19210

2688

25746

1110

6537

2006

1549

 

18864

2673

25573

1125

6710

2007

1521

 

18524

2660

25404

1138

6879

2008

1494

 

18191

2646

25237

1152

7046

2009

1467

 

17863

2632

25073

1166

7210

2010

1440

 

17542

2619

24912

1179

7371

(a) Figures for 1970 to 81 are estimates (see text).
Source: Federal Office of Road safety, Consultant estimates (see text).

Figure 6.4 Fatalities with and without road safety programs, 1970-97

Figure 6.5 Hospitalisations with and without road safety program 1970-97

Programs reduced annual fatalities by 100 per annum in the early 1970s, by 500 per annum in the mid-1980s and by 1000 per annum in the late 1990s. However, we also run a sensitivity test on the assumption that the safety programs accounted for only a quarter of the reductions in fatalities, i.e. for half of these estimated reductions in fatalities.

Persons hospitalised due to motor vehicle crashes

Persons hospitalised due to vehicle accidents fell by 30 per cent between 1982 and 1997, from 30 654 in 1982 to 21 531 in 1997 (see Table 6.4).8 By comparison, fatalities due to crashes fell by 45 per cent over this same period. In 1982, the ratio of persons hospitalised due to a road accident to a person killed was 9.4. In 1997, the ratio was 12.2. It appears that road safety programs had more impact on fatalities than on less severe accidents. It is also possible that some accidents that would have caused fatalities in the 1970s resulted in non-fatal injuries in the 1990s.

In order to estimate the impacts of road safety programs on hospitalisations, we estimated (i) actual hospitalisations due to road crashes from 1970 onwards and (ii) the hospitalisations that would have occurred without any road safety programs. To estimate the former, we allow that the ratio of hospitalisations to fatalities declined by 0.1 in each year from 9.4 in 1982 to 8.5 in 1973. To estimate savings in hospitalisations, we assume that road safety programs were responsible for 50 per cent of the reductions in hospitalisations that occurred in each year.

The resulting estimates are shown in Table 6.4 and Figure 6.5. We estimate that road safety programs reduced hospitalisations due to road crashes by a few hundred per annum in the 1970s rising to about 5000 per annum in the 1990s.9

Other vehicle crashes

There are no comparable longitudinal data on minor vehicle accidents and property damage only accidents. Accident reporting practice has varied and, in any case, is not universal. In so far as there is a trend towards less serious crashes, there would be smaller decline in minor accidents than in other accidents. In Section 6.7 we make some conservative assumptions about the possible benefits of reduced minor vehicle and property damage only accidents.

6.5 Road Safety Programs and Vehicle Accidents: Various Studies

In this section we report the results of some studies of the effects of road safety programs. The main focus is on controls on drinking and driving and on traffic speeds, but for comprehensiveness and by way of comparison, we also report some results for seat belts and for black spot expenditure programs.

Car seat belts

Based on a survey of 8537 injured vehicle occupants between 1971 and 1974, Cameron (1979) concluded that wearing static three-point lap/sash belts by front outboard seat occupants reduced significantly the likelihood of severe to fatal injury to the head-face, thorax, lower torso, and lower extremities, especially in built up-areas.

On the other hand, Cameron found that wearing lap or sash belts tended to increased minor injury to the thorax and lower torso when injured and not ejected in all areas and to increase minor injury to the neck when injured and not ejected in built-up areas. This finding was based on early seat belt technology and pre-dated the introduction of inertia reel seat belts (Australian Design Rule 4B).

Drinking and driving

As reported by the Federal Office of Road Safety (1997), the incidence of drink driving crashes reduced substantially between the early 1980s and the-mid 1990s. In the three years, 1981 to 1983, 42 per cent of all drivers and motor cycle riders in a fatal motor vehicle crash had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.050 gm/100ml or greater. From 1994 to 1996, the proportion fell to 29 per cent.

In the early 1980s, road fatalities averaged 3200 per annum, of which approximately 1350 deaths were associated with driving with a high alcohol content. By the mid-1990s, fatalities totaled about 1900 per annum, of which 550 deaths were associated with a high alcohol concentration.

If alcohol was the primary cause of these road fatalities, reduction in alcohol intake saved 800 lives a year by the mid-1990s. Given that fatalities declined by 1300 over this period, reduced drinking was responsible for an estimated 60 per cent of the decline in road fatalities. This is consistent with the more sophisticated analysis by Henstridge et al (1997) reported below, which suggests that random breath testing reduced total fatalities by about 30 per cent.10

Interstate comparisons confirm the role of alchohol in fatalities. In the states with the strongest alcohol laws and the strongest enforcement of them (Victoria and NSW), just under a quarter of fatally injured drivers and riders in 1996 had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.05gm or more per 100ml. In WA, Queensland and the Northern Territory, where the enforcement programs have generally been weaker, significantly higher proportions of fatalities had an excessive blood alcohol content.

There is also evidence that alcohol consumption is a falling cause of hospitalisation from car crashes. The percentage of drivers and motorcycle riders admitted to hospital with a blood alcohol concentration of over 0.05 gm/100 ml fell from 19 per cent in 1990 to 15 per cent in 1996 (Federal Office of Road Safety, 1998). The declines were most marked in the ACT, Queensland and Tasmania.

Long-term effects of random breath testing

Henstridge et al (1997) made detailed time series analyses of daily data on accidents in New South Wales, Tasmania, Queensland and Western Australia. The study controlled for economic factors like unemployment conditions and road use, as well as for weather, public holidays and so on. Their study indicates that, in the long run, random breath testing reduced fatalities in NSW, Queensland and WA by about 30 per cent and reduced serious accidents by about 12 per cent. The estimated long-term effects of full-scale random breath testing for these three states are summarised in Table 6.5. De facto RBT programs and reduced intoxication programs had about half the impact of full random breath testing programs.

Table 6.5 Estimated long-term effects of random breath testing

 

NSW Dec.82-Dec.92

WA Oct.88-Dec.92

Qld.Dec.88-Dec.92

Type of accident

Per cent reduction

Accidents prevented p.a.

Per cent reduction

Accidents prevented p.a.

Per cent reduction

Accidents prevented p.a.

Serious

3-18

674

13

335

19

785

Fatal

17-42

149

28

71

35

192

Source: Henstridge, Homel and Mackay, 1997.

The results for NSW varied considerably over the period, with the accident rate rising when RBT enforcement levels fell. There appears to be a significant decay in the deterrence effect when enforcement falls.

In Tasmania, although there was a high initial impact, with estimated accidents falling by 24 per cent, the study could find no effect on serious or fatal accidents after three months. The authors attribute this to the small numbers of accidents in the sample, the difficulty of isolating the RBT effect, and the lack of a media campaign with the RBT program.

Traffic speeds and crashes

Several studies of traffic speeds and crashes in Australia have been made. Collectively they point to a significant relationship between speeds and crashes, but the results of the studies are not unanimous.

Croft (1993) reports that excessive speed for road conditions in New South Wales was implicated in 4 per cent of rural fatal crashes and 30 per cent of metropolitan fatal crashes and that speeds on urban streets were far in excess of safe levels. However, Croft does not report the source of his estimates.

In Victoria, in June 1987, speed limits on freeways were increased from 100 km/h to 110 km/h. In September 1989, speed limits were reduced back to 100 km/h. According to the study by Sligoris (1992) reported by Barton and Cunningham (1993), the effects on accidents were substantial. For the whole of Victoria, the increase in the speed limit in June 1987 led to an estimated 24.6 per cent increase in the casualty rate per vehicle km travelled. On the other hand, the reduction in speed limit in September 1989 led to an estimated 19.3 per cent fall in the casualty rate. Barton and Cunningham conclude that there ‘is little doubt that lower speed limits did save lives and reduce injuries and accidents.’

However, a more recent Victorian study (Newstead and Narayan, 1998) found less clear effects of speed limits on road accidents. This study examined five sets of reductions in speed limits (for example, from 100 km/h to 90 km/h, from 100 km/h to 80 km/h, and from 90 km/h to 80 km/h) and four sets of increases in speed limits. The study found that overall, in Melbourne, casualty crashes increased by 9 per cent when zone speeds increased, but that casualty rates did not fall when speed limits were reduced. However, there were several anomalous results when crashes increased at lower speeds and fell at higher speeds. The study also found no effect of changes in traffic speeds outside Melbourne.

On the other hand, Kloeden et al. (1999) find a strong relationship between traffic speeds and accidents (of sober drivers) in 60 km/h speed limit zones in Adelaide. The main findings were:

  • Of cars involved in crashes, 68 per cent were exceeding 60 km/h and 14 per cent were exceeding 80 km/h.
  • Of cars not involved in crashes, fewer vehicles (42 per cent) were exceeding 60 km/h and only 1 per cent exceeded 80 km/h. (But still, over two in five cars were speeding)!
  • Risks of crashes increase exponentially with travel speed. Risk of a crash is four times as great at 70 km/h than at 60 km/h.
  • If no vehicles exceeded the speed limits, at least 29 per cent of crashes would be avoided and the energy impact would be reduced by 22 per cent for all remaining accidents.
  • A 10 per cent reduction in travel speeds by the crash-involved cars would have reduced accidents by 42 per cent.

Kloeden et al. recommended stronger enforcement of speed limits.

Overview of causes of reductions in serious accidents in Victoria 1990-93

In the late 1980s the Victorian government introduced a range of measures to reduce road accidents. The measures included increased random breath testing using ‘booze buses’, lowering the freeway speed limit to 100 km/h, and new speed cameras (all in 1989), bicycle helmet laws, (1990), a black spot program and special enforcement programs, all with mass media publicity.

The programs had a major effect. Fatalities fell from 776 in 1989 to 392 in 1992 and to 435 in 1994. Serious injuries fell by over a third in 3-4 years. Hospitalisation rates fell from 242 per 100 000 people in 1988 to 133 per 100 000 people in 1992.

Using monthly crash data, Newstead et al. (1995) estimate the influence of the road safety programs on accidents, focussing especially on random breath testing, speed cameras and traffic infringement notices (TINs), and the supporting media publicity. The publicity effect was captured by a special measure (Adstock) of the audience’s retained awareness of current and past television advertising of road safety behaviour.

The estimated results are shown in Table 6.6. Note that to interpret these results, the percentages cannot be summed to obtain the total percentage figure. If more than one factor is considered, the percentage reduction of each factor must be applied in turn to the reducing balance. Newstead et al (1995) estimated that economic factors and road safety programs reduced serious crashes by 46 per cent below the expected trend. Anti-speeding and drink–driving programs reduced serious casualty crashes by at least 25-27 per cent. That is, RBT, speed cameras, TINs and supporting media publicity were responsible for over half of the reductions in serious crashes, with the balance due to treatments of accident black spots (5 per cent) and to increased unemployment and declining alcohol sales. However, the decline in drinking may have been attributable partly to the media campaign as well as to the recession.

Table 6.6 Causes of reductions in serious casualty crashes in Victoria

 

Unit

1992

1993

Serious crash data

     

Expected (no-change) serious crashesa

No.

9619

9731

Actual serious crashes

No.

5156

5193

Modelled serious crashes

No.

5211

5183

Reduction in serious crashes

%

45.8

46.7

Contributions from economic factors

     

Unemployment

%

13.1

15.3

Declining alcohol sales

%

10.5

11.5

Treatment of accident black spots

%

3.5b

4.8

Contributions from road safety programs

     

Speed camera TINs

%

9.4

8.9

Speed and concentration publicity

%

10.4

8.3

Bus-based RBT

%

5.7

6.8

Drink-driving publicity

%

6.9

7.1

Above 4 road safety programs

%

28.8

27.6

Assumes no changes in economy, road safety initiatives, etc.
Our estimate by interpolation of results in text.
Source: Newstead et al., 1995.The Commonwealth Government’s Black Spot Program (1990-93)

Between 1990 and 1993, the Commonwealth government provided $270 million to reduce road accidents at identified high risk black spots. The program contained 3176 projects at average cost of $85 000.

The Bureau of Transport and Communications Economics (1995) evaluated a large part ($245 million in expenditures) of the Black Spot program. Using conservative assumptions for the benefits (e.g. loss of earnings due to premature death rather than a value for a statistical life, which is usually higher), the report estimated that the program generated net benefits of nearly $800 million. The estimated benefit-cost ratio for the program was 3.9. In other words, each dollar of capital generated nearly an estimated $4 of benefits.

General conclusions from these studies

It is difficult to isolate the effects of particular road safety programs on road accidents and risky to generalise about them. Reducing speed limits sometimes reduces road accidents, but not always. However, overall, the studies cited above support the view that behavioural road safety programs (i.e. programs that educated the public, reduced traffic speeds, and reduced drinking and driving,) were responsible for a substantial part of the fall in road crashes experienced since 1970.

6.6 Benefits of Road Safety Programs

The benefits of road safety programs are a product of reductions in accidents (estimated above) and cost per accident saved. Drawing on work by the Bureau of Transport Economics (BTE, 2000), accident costs include human costs, vehicle costs and general costs. The human cost of road crashes are costs associated with personal injurylosses of life, output and quality of life, medical costs, and coronial, funeral and legal costs. Vehicle costs include the cost of towing and repairing vehicles as well as the unavailability of vehicles involved in crashes. General costs include travel delays, insurance administration, police costs, property and fire costs.

BTE’s estimates of the costs of road crashes in 1996 are shown in Table 6.7. Using a 4 per cent discount rate, the estimated total cost was $15.0 billion. This includes $8.4 billion in human costs, $4.1 billion in total vehicle costs, and $2.5 billion in other costs. However, some costs (for example long-term care) are sensitive to the choice of discount rate. With a 7 per cent discount rate, the estimated total cost was $13.2 billion.

Table 6.7 Estimated Costs of Road Crashes in 1996 ($ million)

Cost component

Costs at a given discount rate

 

4%

7%

Human costs

   

Medical / ambulance/ rehabilitation

361

361

Long-term care

1990

1372

Labour in the workplace

1625

1045

Labour in the household

1493

870

Quality of life

1769

1769

Legal

813

813

Workplace disruption

313

313

Othera

21

21

Total human costs

8385

6564

Vehicle costs

   

Repairs

3885

3885

Unavailability of vehicles

182

182

Towing

43

43

Total vehicle costs

4110

4110

General costs

   

Travel delays

1445

1445

Insurance administration

926

926

Police

74

74

Otherb

40

40

Total general costs

2485

2485

Total all costs

14980

13159

(a) Correctional services, funeral and coroner costs.
(b) Property and fire costs.
Source: Bureau of Transport Economics, 2000.

The costs shown in Table 6.7 include costs to government. The direct costs to government include medical ($361 million) and long-term care costs ($1.4 - $2.0 billion depending on the discount rate). The latter costs reflect an average cost of $26,000 per annum per disabled person (BTE, 2000). In addition, government would bear all police costs plus some legal costs, workplace disruption costs, vehicle repairs, travel delays, and insurance costs associated with accidents incurred by government employees. For the purpose of this evaluation, we allow that government would bear 10 per cent of these latter costs, which would involve a further $0.75 billion per annum in costs.11 The total cost to government would be in the order of $2.6 - $3.2 billion per annum. Most of these costs would be borne by the Commonwealth.

The costs shown in Table 6.7 are comprehensive. Indeed, the $15.0 billion estimate is $6 billion higher than the Bureau’s previous estimates of crash costs (BTCE, 1992). The main factors contributing to this increase are the inclusion of long term care costs, an extra $1.0 billion of travel delays, use of a 4 per cent discount rate instead of 7 per cent rate, and inclusion of several other costs that were not previously estimated.

There are two areas relevant to this present study where the BTE figures may be viewed as high. The first is the cost of a fatality. The BTE estimates loss of life as the sum of loss of output in the workplace and home and the loss of quality of life. Wage rates were applied to unpaid work. For a fatality the human cost totaled $1359 000 (with a discount rate of 4 per cent). This was made up of $540 000 for loss of workplace labour, $500 000 for loss of home and community labour, and $319 000 for loss of quality of life. This is an unusual approach, which is neither a human capital approach nor a willingness to pay value. Also, it is odd to include loss of quality of life for a fatality. The total figure is high compared with most human capital estimates of the value of life, but low by comparison with many willingness to pay estimates (see Chapter 1 above).

The second issue is the cost of a seriously injured person. The BTE study estimates the human cost as the sum of medical costs, loss of labour in the workplace and household, loss of quality of life, and government payments for long-term care. It appears that there may be some double counting here with government payments compensating in small part for the loss of income and productivity and the poor quality of life.12 13 It is true that disabled people will use government payments partly to employ resources for assistance. However, in the view of the consultant, part of the dollar valuation of the loss of quality of life may be expenditure required on resources to achieve an improved quality of life.

Table 6.8 shows BTE’s estimates of the total costs, and costs per crash, for each type of crash (fatality, serious, minor and property damage only accidents). For our purposes, serious crashes equate more or less to crashes that involve hospitalisation. The estimated total cost of fatal and serious crashes was $10.1 billion in 1996. Minor and property damage only (PDO) crashes cost an estimated $4.9 billion. The difference between the cost per crash and the cost per injured person reflects the occupancy rate per crash vehicle.

Table 6.8 Summary of Crash Costs in 1996 by Crash Type

Crash type

Total costs ($bn)

Per crash ($)

Per person injured ($)

Fatal

2.92

1 652 994

1 500 000

Serious

7.15

407 990

324 000

Minor

2.47

13 776

11 611

PDO

2.44

5 808

0

Total

14.98

24 716

Na

Source: Bureau of Transport Economics, 2000.

The estimated benefits of lower road accidents in 1996 due to road safety programs are shown in Table 6.9 using BTE and Applied Economics' parameter values for fatalities and hospitalised persons. We allow $1.1 million per fatality and $250 000 per person injured in a serious crash. This fatality valuation allows $1.0 million for loss of life as adopted in this report and $100 000 for other costs of a fatality associated with road crashes. Our valuation per hospitalised person allows a discount for double counting of some costs in BTE (2000).

In addition, we allow savings for minor and PDO crashes equal to one-sixth of the savings on fatal and serious crashes. This allows that minor and PDO crashes account for one third of all crash costs, but that savings on these accidents would be half the rate of savings for fatal and serious crashes.

Using BTE cost parameters, we estimate that crash costs would have been $3.5 billion (23 per cent) higher in 1996 if there had been no road traffic safety programs since 1970. Using the lower cost parameters suggested by Applied Economics, and consistent with those used elsewhere in this report, crash costs would have been $2.7 billion higher in 1996.

Savings to government

Government bears only a small part of costs of fatalities. We allow $30 000 of the $100 000 costs associated with a fatality (not including the loss of life itself). However, government would bear a high part of the cost of hospitalised persons in health care costs, long-term care transfer payments, and various ancillary costs, though not the quality of life or loss of output costs. We assume that the government bears half of costs of hospitalised persons. Thirdly, we allow that government bears 20 per cent of all other costs. In total, government saved an estimated $750 million in year 1996 due to the road safety programs from 1970 onward.

Table 6.9 Estimated benefits of road safety programs in 1996a

Savings

Nob

Valuec ($)

Totalc ($m)

Valued ($)

Totald ($m)

Government savingse

Fatalities

914

1 500 000

1 371

1 100 000

1 005

27

Hospitalisations

5 174

324 000

1 676

250 000

1 294

647

Sub-total

   

3 047

 

2 299

674

Other crashes

   

508

 

382

76

Total

   

3,554

 

2 681

750

BTE figures are in 1996 dollars. Consultant estimate can be viewed as 2000 dollars consistent with other parts of the report. The differences are not significant given the low inflation 1996 to 2000.
Estimates taken from Table 6.4.
Based on BTE estimated parameter values.
Based on consultant estimated parameter values.
Consultant estimates (see text).

6.7 Economic Evaluation of Road Safety Programs

The economic evaluation runs from 1970 to 2010. Drawing on the discussion in Section 6.3, the estimated costs of road safety programs in year 2000 dollars rise from $300 million a year in the-mid 1980s to $600 million a year in the late 1990s, and then stay constant to 2010. The estimated benefits of the road safety programs are the product of the estimated reduction in fatalities and hospitalisations and savings per fatality and hospitalisation shown in Table 6.8. We factor up these benefits by one-sixth to allow for savings in minor crashes and property damage only accidents. The benefits are projected to 2010 based on accident trends observed in the 1990s. The dollar values of the benefits can also be regarded as 2000 prices.

The results are shown in Table 6.10. The estimated present value of the costs of the road safety programs discounted at 5 per cent to 1970 is $6.6 billion. However, the present value of the benefits of the programs is $20.0 billion. Therefore the net benefit is $13.4 billion.

Arguably, these cases are not comprehensive because they do not include the private welfare costs of conforming to traffic safety regulations. This produces an inconsistency in the evaluation. Whereas the BTE includes travel time savings as a benefit of reduced accidents, there is no travel time penalty included for regulations that slow down road trips.

As an indication of the kind of travel time cost involved, suppose that five million vehicles in Australia travel an average of 15,000 km per annum or a total of 75 billion km in a year. Suppose further that speed restrictions affected these trips as follows. The average speed on 15 billion km on freeways falls from 120 km to 110 km per hour; the average speed on another 15 billion km in urban areas falls from 70 km to 60 km per hour; the average speed on the other 50 billion km is unchanged. There would be an additional 39 million trip hours in a year.14 Allowing $14.58 per vehicle hour (as per BTE, 2000), the travel time costs associated with these speed limits would be $568 million per annum.

There may also be welfare costs of impositions on drinking and driving. Many people may like to drink more than the regulations allow when driving and may be willing to pay something for this right. We have not attempted any detailed estimates of such possible willingness to pay amounts. Suffice to say here that they could be significant amounts. On the other hand, many non-drinkers may be willing to pay something for extra safety on the roads.

For the purpose of the economic evaluation, we allow private costs associated with traffic safety regulations of $600 million per annum in year 2000, with costs decreasing by $20 million per annum back to 1970, and increasing by $20 million to 2010. If these costs are included with the base costs and benefits the road safety programs, the net present value of the road safety programs falls to $8.7 billion with a 5 per cent discount rate.

Table 6.10 Economic Evaluation of road safety programs (Year 2000 $s, million)

Year

Central case

Adding private costs

Return to government

   

Benefits: reductions in

       
 

Costs

Deaths

Hospital

Other

Total

Net benefit

Private
Costs

Net
benefit

Savings

Net benefit

1970

300

0

0

0

0

-300

0

-300

0

-300

1971

300

114

221

56

391

91

20

71

125

-175

1972

300

207

400

101

707

407

40

367

225

-75

1973

300

65

126

32

224

-76

60

-136

71

-229

1974

300

124

195

53

373

73

80

-7

112

-188

1975

300

57

18

13

88

-212

100

-312

13

-287

1976

300

118

94

35

248

-52

120

-172

57

-243

1977

300

121

55

29

205

-95

140

-235

37

-263

1978

300

51

-133

-14

-95

-395

160

-555

-68

-368

1979

300

160

45

34

238

-62

180

-242

34

-266

1980

300

289

273

93

655

355

200

155

163

-137

1981

300

262

175

73

510

210

220

-10

109

-191

1982

300

300

204

84

588

288

240

48

127

-173

1983

300

574

525

182

1281

981

260

721

315

15

1984

300

537

436

162

1134

834

280

554

265

-35

1985

300

471

379

141

992

692

300

392

231

-69

1986

330

501

389

148

1037

707

320

387

238

-92

1987

360

564

323

147

1035

675

340

335

206

-154

1988

390

501

322

137

960

570

360

210

202

-188

1989

420

548

478

170

1197

777

380

397

288

-132

1990

450

807

915

286

2008

1558

400

1158

537

87

1991

480

927

1219

356

2502

2022

420

1602

706

226

1992

510

1003

1346

390

2740

2230

440

1790

778

268

1993

540

1015

1341

391

2747

2207

460

1747

776

236

1994

570

1029

1269

381

2679

2109

480

1629

738

168

1995

600

980

1239

368

2587

1987

500

1487

720

120

1996

600

1005

1294

382

2681

2081

520

1561

750

150

1997

600

1117

1344

408

2869

2269

540

1729

784

184

1998

600

1122

872

331

2325

1725

560

1165

532

-68

1999

600

1133

888

335

2356

1756

580

1176

542

-58

2000

600

1139

1406

422

2967

2367

600

1767

818

218

2001

600

1156

1453

433

3042

2442

620

1822

844

244

2002

600

1173

1500

444

3116

2516

640

1876

870

270

2003

600

1189

1545

454

3189

2589

660

1929

896

296

2004

600

1205

1590

464

3260

2660

680

1980

920

320

2005

600

1221

1634

474

3330

2730

700

2030

945

345

2006

600

1237

1677

484

3398

2798

720

2078

969

369

2007

600

1252

1720

493

3466

2866

740

2126

992

392

2008

600

1267

1762

503

3532

2932

760

2172

1016

416

2009

600

1282

1802

512

3597

2997

780

2217

1038

438

2010

600

1297

1843

521

3660

3060

800

2260

1061

461

                     

NPV @ 5%

             
 

6605

8115

9009

2843

19967

13362

4699

8662

5292

(1313)

                     

NPV Results

 

@ 3%

@ 5%

@ 7%

     

Central case: full benefits

 

23036

13362

7985

     

Central case: 50% benefits

 

6757

3378

1572

     

Central case: + private costs

 

15563

8662

3377

     

Impact on government

 

(823)

(1313)

(1465)

     

Sensitivity tests

The results are clearly robust. The net benefits of the road safety programs are positive for any plausible change in the parameters.

The results are sensitive to the choice of discount rate. Using a 7 per cent discount rate, which is often used in economic evaluations of roads, the discounted net benefit in the central case falls to $8.0 billion. Including the private costs of the traffic regulations, the net present value falls to $3.4 billion.

On the other hand, adopting a zero discount rate, as suggested by the Department of Health and Aged care, total benefits from 1970 to 2010 would be an estimated $73.8 billion compared with costs of $18.5 billion. Thus the net benefits would be $55.4 billion.

If the road safety programs were responsible for only one quarter of the reduction in traffic accidents, instead of one half of the reduction as allowed in the central case, the net present value of the programs falls to $3.4 billion with a 5 per cent discount rate.

If the real costs of the road safety programs were 50 per cent higher ($9.9 billion in present value terms with a 5 per cent discount rate), the net present values would fall by $3.3 billion with this discount rate, but still be positive.

Net cost to government

Finally, we consider the impact of the road safety programs on governments (see last two columns in Table 6.10). For this purpose, we employ the same benefit parameters that we used to estimate the savings of $750 million in 1996 in Section 6.6. These benefit parameters are applied to the estimated fatalities, hospital cases and other accidents each year from 1970 to 2010.

Adopting a 5 per cent discount rate, the estimated gross savings to government would be $5.3 billion compared with costs of $6.6 billion, resulting in a net present value of the road safety programs to government of -$1.3 billion. These results are not sensitive to choice of discount rate. However, they are sensitive to quite small changes in assumptions about the costs actually incurred or the savings actually made by government.

6.8 Conclusions

Australian road accidents have fallen substantially since their peak in 1970. The number of fatalities fell from 3798 in 1970 to 1759 in 1997. Fatalities per 100 000 vehicles fell from 7.96 to 1.58 over the same period.

Since 1970, there have been numerous road safety programs. Major features were the mandatory fitting of seat belts, campaigns against drinking and driving, reduction in vehicle speed limits and increased enforcement of speed restrictions, and accident black spot programs. In addition, road authorities have paid increasing attention to traffic management.

Macro econometric analysis supported by many micro studies of the impacts of road safety programs suggest that road safety programs were responsible for half of the reductions in road accidents. The other half reflects mainly improved roads and safer vehicles.

However, the analysis is hampered by lack of clear and consistent definitions of road safety programs across the States and over time. For the purpose of the economic evaluation, we estimated that Australian governments currently spend $600 million a year on road safety. However, it would be possible to obtain a figure of half this amount using a narrow definition of a road safety program or a figure of double this amount using a broad definition of a road safety program.

On the other hand, we estimate that the road safety programs were responsible for saving about 1000 lives and 5000 hospital cases per year, as well as some other property damages, in the late 1990s. The estimated annual value of these savings amounted to $2.7 billion.

Overall, there was a substantial net benefit from the road safety programs. Excluding any private costs associated with observing traffic safety regulations, such as increased travel time, the estimated net present value of the benefits of the road programs from 1970 to 2010, using a 5 per cent discount rate, is $13.4 billion. Including some crudely estimated private costs, the net present value of the programs falls to $8.7 billion. With a discount rate of 7 per cent, the net benefit of the programs falls to $8.0 billion and $3.4 billion respectively.

The road safety programs have saved governments an estimated $750 million a year in the late 1990s. Despite these savings to government, the estimated net present value of the road safety programs to government is -$1.3 billion with a 5 per cent discount rate.

This does not mean that the programs have been economically unjustified. The road users and other private parties have benefited substantially from the programs. Overall, the net social benefits have been positive and large.

1 As noted in Chapter 1, the brief requires us to estimate the total return to all road safety programs rather than the marginal returns to incremental programs or expenditures.

2 Source: Transport South Australia, Annual Report, 1992-93.

3 NSW Roads and Traffic Authority, Annual Report, 1998-99.

4 Source: Annual Reports of the Queensland Department of Transport.

5 The Transport Accident Commission runs road safety programs in Victoria which are additional to the Vic Roads expenditures noted here.

6 The percentage fall in fatalities per registered vehicle is of course the same as the percentage fall in fatalities per 1000 or per 10 000 vehicles.

7 Such a model would be complicated by the state-based nature of most road safety programs. Scuffham (1999) is an example of a multivariate national study of road safety programs in New Zealand, but New Zealand is a unitary political state, not a federation.

8 Comparable data on hospitalisations are not available for earlier years. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports on severe accidents, not on persons hospitalised, in the 1970s.

9 The rounding method used to backcast actual hospitalisations result in one anomaly: more estimated hospitalisations occur with road safety programs than without them in 1978. Although this result is inappropriate, the estimation method and overall results for the 1970s appear realistic.

10 Random breath testing is responsible for only part of the decline in accidents due to alochol.

11 Government expenditure on goods and services is about 20 per cent of GDP. However, government employment is about 14 per cent of total employment. Also, many accidents take place during leisure rather than business travel.

12 In BTE (2000), the cost of long term care ($1990 million with a 4 per cent discount rate) equals the sum of loss of output in the workplace and household and the loss of quality of life for seriously injured persons ($1868 million).

13 The estimated cost of loss of quality of life in Table 6.7 is invariant with the discount rate. This is anomalous given that the figure should be the present value of current and future losses of quality of life.

14 The reduction in speed from 120 km/hr to 110 km/hr for 12.5 billion km increases trip time by 9.5 million hours. The reduction in speed from 70 km/hr to 60 km/hr for 12.5 billion km increases trip time by 29.6 million hours.

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