Time to slash road speed

Victoria must consider lowering speed limits on rural roads by at least 20 km/h if it is serious about slashing the road toll, a leading expert says.

Veteran road researcher and consultant Dr Bruce Corben says Victoria is at least 10 years behind leading countries Sweden and The Netherlands when it comes to designing safe roads that will save lives.

The former Monash Accident Research Centre director, who has more than 20 years experience, says painting white lines on 100 km/h roads between cars that will travel at a closing speed of up to 200 km/h is simply not good enough. 

“We’ve got many decades of tragic experience – on many of our roads we don’t have the right infrastructure … in place to prevent the types of crashes that happen on those classes of road,” Dr Corben said. 

“The ideas of having people driving towards each other at a closing speed of at least 200 km/h… and separated by a white line … too often it leads to very severe head on collisions.” 

The proposal comes after a number of fatal crashes throughout the Hepburn Shire in 2016, including a double fatality in Denver in November and a death in Clunes on Christmas Day. 

Safe Systems Solution engineer Kenn Beer said five year research showed around 10 per cent of all Victorian fatalities occur in Western Victoria,  with most of those crashes occurring on roads with a 100 km/h speed limit.

“In the past we’ve focused on trying to make humans act perfectly all the time. But humans are the most fallible part of the road system,” Mr Beer said.  “The Safe System says that, while we’ll continue to strive to make road users make better choices, make less mistakes and take care, we need to accept that they will still make mistakes. 

“We all do. And when the mistake happens, the vehicles and the roads and roadsides need to be engineered to be forgiving.” 

Ideally, Dr Corben said all 100 km/h roads should have wire rope barriers, if not the speeds should be lowered. 

He said increasing technology could eventually mean rope barriers were not always necessary – however this technology would only work if the quality of rural roads improved dramatically. 

“There are many thousands of kilometres of roads that don’t have that quality of infrastructure,” Dr Corben said. 

Dr Corben said Victoria could slash its road toll to around 150 fatalities a year if it cut speed limits to 70 km/h on poor quality roads and continued mass investment into roadside and centreline barriers. “We’re now getting down to some tough options if we are going to take our loss of life to substantially lower levels.”