It has been suggested that, if Labor [sic] wins the election next month it will legislate that drivers need to leave at least 1m between their vehicles and cyclists for speeds up to 60km/hr, and more for higher speeds. The Road Safety Act used to specify one vehicle only in a lane at any time, and a bicycle is classed as a vehicle. Reinstatement of that rule, which ensured safety on the roads, would be preferable to legislating for a 1m gap, though I will support any move which makes it safer for cyclists to use our roads. Despite some driver comments, cyclists have just as much a right to use most roads as car drivers do, and we need to show respect and look after their safety.
Background to the Road Safety policy
I’m sure that we’ve all heard frightening statistics about the number of people killed or seriously injured in road incidents, about people going at horrific speeds along some of our roads, about drivers who are so much under the influence of alcohol or drugs that it’s surprising they could get behind the steering wheel, and about people continuing to use hand-held mobile phones despite all the work done to stop such distracting action. I’m sure, also, that the vast majority of road users are aware of the poor state of Australian roads, both in terms of design and maintenance, and you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who thinks our traffic light sequencing is anything but appalling – except in Main Roads WA. With that general concern, and I’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg, there should be plenty of opportunities to improve road safety in Western Australia if we are willing to bite the bullet and make some hard decisions.
WA used to have relatively good roads, where, if you were not the driver, you could pass over repairs and not know it, and where waiting at traffic lights was not a problem since the wait was always short. The Hendon Police Academy in the UK used, as part of its test of driving skill, a glass full of water attached to the bonnet of a car, and required the trainee to complete a specifically designed circuit without spilling any water. These days there isn’t a single, even straight, stretch of road in WA where that would be possible, because roads are being built to a much poorer standard, supposedly because of cost, even though maintenance costs are much higher if the road hasn’t been built properly in the first place.
When WA started to implement the SCATS traffic signal system it removed one essential element of “intelligence” for sequencing by moving the sensors from the approaches to a set of lights all the way to the stop line at the lights. The switching off of arrow sequences when not necessary – try 4.30am on a Sunday, as I have frequently encountered – was all but abandoned, creating unnecessarily longer sequences. Drivers approaching lights which are changing are now faced with the dilemma of stopping, and being held up for potentially long times, or trying to go through on the amber signal, and either risking passing through on the red signal or blocking an intersection because traffic ahead makes it impossible to pass completely through. At one intersection I frequented in Melbourne I could guarantee at least one red light offence for every pass through the sequence, all because of poor timing of those lights.
Whereas consistency of school zone speed limits appears to be a good idea it falls flat when the school in particular has different starting and finishing times. One school with which I was associated finished at 2pm one day a week, and by the time the school speed zone applied there was no sign of any student, there were no crossing attendants, and virtually no teachers, so the restriction in speed was actually counter-productive.
Following the changes in the Australian Design Rules for speedometers, most cars built or first registered from July 2007 show a speed which is 7-10% higher than the actual speed of the vehicle. Thus, if the driver is actually doing 100km/hr the speedometer is likely to be reading in the range 107-110km/hr. If police allow 2km/hr leeway for accuracy of equipment, then the speedometer in a car exceeding a 100km/hr limit will probably be showing at least 9km/hr over the limit. There is no reason why such drivers should have ground for complaint when charged. Similarly, no-one who abides by the speed limits has any need for concern.
I will push strongly for:
● reintroduction of the one-vehicle-per-lane rule which used to apply on WA roads;
● roads to be built with solid foundations, not compacted gravel which can be washed away, leaving a large maintenance bill;
● banking on corners to allow for the expected speed of vehicles, including large trucks;
● round-a-bouts to be built, or rebuilt, with the low point at the centre, where is should be;
● the traffic light sequencing system to be totally replaced by something which actually gets traffic flowing, and involves arrow sequences only when they are really needed;
● review of major road interchange areas to employ clover-leaf designs as often as possible so that traffic lights are not needed in those locations, and environmental damage is limited as much as possible;
● a review of speed limits, to make them more consistent and to make school zone speed limits tie in with the times when children arrive and leave each school;
● re-introduction of the Road Traffic Authority, with adequate staffing, or at least a significant increase in the number of traffic police on the roads, in marked and unmarked vehicles;
● well-known places where equipment is set up for people to check their speedometers without fear of being charged with speeding;
● a definition of “tailgating” as being closer than 2 seconds behind the vehicle in front, so that police can charge people with following too closely;
● a significant increase in the number of speed cameras, since only those who deliberately fail to abide by the speed limits have any concern;
● increases in the penalties for speeding and drink driving, including devising ways of preventing those who drive while suspended from doing so for the period of suspension;
● use, by the public, of high-resolution dash-cams with video being able to be uploaded, by registered providers, directly to a section of the WA Police (or RTA) responsible for processing video evidence of traffic offences and issuing infringement notices, along with changes to rules on evidence gathering to make better use of such videos;
● suspension of mobile phone access for those who use hand-held mobile phones while driving, including telephone service providers being required to block the phone(s) and not issue a new service to the offender within the suspension, and making it an offence for someone else to provide a phone for the period of suspension;
● novice drivers to undertake an advanced driving course before being allowed off ‘P’ plates;
● all drivers whose licences are coming up for renewal more than 10 years from their original issue to be retested so that every driver is tested at least every 10 years;
● a requirement, for safety reasons only, that overseas drivers who normally drive on the right hand side of the road undergo at practical driving test designed to ensure that they a capable of driving safely on the left hand side;
● a requirement, also for safety reasons only, that overseas drivers undergo a theory test to ensure they are familiar with our road rules, especially where they differ from those in the country from which they come, before driving here;
● a readily-accessible web page covering all the current road rules with new rules or changes to rules clearly marked so that drivers can easily keep up-to-date and not get caught out because Parliament has passed a new rule with little or no publicity;
● changes to road rules to be emailed to licence holders’ registered email addresses, where such an address is available, in the lead up to those changes applying;
● implementation of a peak toll for private vehicles entering the area surrounding the central business district of Perth during the morning peak, with the money raised being used to pay for improved public transport, including more parking at train stations and bus hubs.
Authorised by Steven Secker, 4 Dower Court, Armadale.