Australia is a large
country in which motor vehicles are a vital means of transport. Our traffic
laws need to strike a balance between safety and the need for efficient
travel over long distances.
Annual road deaths in
Australia have fallen from a peak of 3,798 in 1970 to approximately 1,600.
Over that period, road travel has increased by almost 150 per cent. While
this is commendable in one sense, the restrictions on mobility and
transport imposed in the course of achieving such a reduction are rarely
It is not a realistic
goal to seek the virtual elimination of deaths and injuries due to traffic
accidents, and should not be the intention. The primary aim of traffic laws
and their enforcement must be to reduce the potential for death and injury
to innocent road users – passengers, innocent bystanders and safe drivers –
to a level that is reasonably proportional to the need for an efficient
transport system. Moreover, what is reasonably proportional is a matter for
society to decide, not politicians and public servants.
This should be
accompanied by a health system that does not impose on society the cost of
recovery of irresponsible and dangerous drivers. Drivers should be free to
risk their own safety provided they are responsible for the consequences of
the choices they make.
many traffic laws are based on the subjective views of policymakers and
reflect a “nanny-state” mentality.
many traffic laws are intended to protect drivers from themselves, even
when they are the only ones likely to suffer adverse consequences. Seat
belt laws are especially paternalistic.
many traffic laws are based on assumptions about outdated automotive
technology and have never been reviewed as technology improved.
of traffic laws often has too little impact on risky driver behaviour and
does little more than generate government revenue. This undermines public
confidence in the police and legal system.
enforcement of traffic laws is at times vindictive and oppressive,
especially on young drivers.
Enforcement of speed limits in Victoria, for example, has gone well
beyond the limits of what is compatible with a free society.
Speed limits require a
major rethink. Not only are they disregarded by a majority of drivers, but
the justifications offered for speed limits bring the law into contempt. It
is clearly false, for example to claim that “there is no such thing as safe
speeding” or “speed kills” when the sport of motor racing has such a safe
are taken in other parts of the world:
French autoroutes there is a variable speed limit: in dry weather 130 km/h;
when raining, 110 km/h.
autostradas have a 130 km/h speed limit, with 110 km/h limits on curvy
roads and in rainy conditions and 150 km/h limits on newer and straighter
autobahns have no speed limits in general, although there is a recommended
limit of 130 km/h. Blanket speed limits apply for trucks, buses, and cars
pulling trailers. Due to high oil prices, more and more people drive
"slowly" (~150km/h) in order to save money on petrol.
motorways are limited to 120 km/h.
the UK the limit on motorways is currently 112 km/h. However, the
opposition Conservative Party is proposing to raise the limit to 130 km/h
speed limit on freeways in South Africa is 120 km/h.
interstate highways in the United States are generally limited to 130 km/h.
Texas, a night time limit of 105 km/h applies to all roads that have a
higher daytime limit.
areas in the United States have both minimum and maximum speed limits.
highest speed limit in the world is 160 km/h, on a selected test stretch of
autobahn in Austria and in the United Arab Emirates.
Traffic laws that
reflect the behaviour of the majority of motorists have better compliance
than laws that arbitrarily criminalise the majority of motorists and
encourage violations. The normally careful and competent actions of a
reasonable person should be considered legal. A speed limit should be set
so that the majority of motorists observe it voluntarily and enforcement
can be directed to the minority of offenders.
This can be achieved by
applying the 85th percentile rule. Traffic engineers observe
that the majority of drivers drive in a safe and reasonable manner, with
the safest vehicles travelling at or below the 85th to 90th percentiles.
Vehicles travelling over the 85th percentile speed (or faster than the flow
of traffic) have a significantly higher crash risk than vehicles travelling
around or modestly below this speed.
Some authorities claim
to follow the 85th percentile rule, including most of the US.
However, actual limits are frequently lower due to bureaucratic and
political bias. The Australian Transport Council’s National Road Safety
Strategy similarly seeks to impose its own version of acceptable risk
rather than accept the 85th percentile rule.
The LDP’s policies
limits should be set at, or slightly above, the 85th percentile.
This would result in an increase of 10-30 km/h in the limit on roads where
drivers felt it was safe to drive at such speeds, while perhaps leading to
reductions on less safe roads.
National Road Safety Strategy should adopt the 85th percentile
rule in relation to speed rather than its own version of acceptable risk.
speed limits over 90 km/h should be automatically reduced by a uniform
amount (eg 10-20 km/h) at night and in the rain.
setting of speed limits and other road laws should be conducted in an open
and transparent manner, with bureaucrats and politicians required to
publicly justify themselves.
of speed limits should allow tolerance of 10% for speedometer error and
speed limits (for example in school zones) should only apply when flashing
yellow lights are operating.
radar detectors should be re-legalised as they assist drivers to adhere to
enforcement of speed limits should be replaced with sign-posted enforcement
to increase the deterrent effect.
enforcement (including placement of speed cameras) should concentrate on
locations where the risk of speeding creates substantial risks to other
traffic laws should be reviewed to ensure the priority is on safety to
others, not the safety of the driver.
testing should emphasise the skills and knowledge required to handle a
vehicle to avoid being a danger to others. Parking is not one of those.
of drivers’ licences should be subject to retesting after a certain number
of traffic laws intended to protect road users from themselves, while
having no impact on innocent victims, should be low priority. That includes
wearing seatbelts and motorcycle helmets.
highest enforcement priority must be driver behaviour that infringes on the
rights of others, particularly if it risks their death or injury. Red light
cameras are an example of valid enforcement based on this criterion. Road
rage is an example of behaviour that warrants criminal sanctions.
and hotting up cars should not be prohibited unless it leads to vehicles
that are dangerous to other road users (ie not the driver). The onus must
be on the prosecution to establish such danger.
five-year trial should be conducted in which the blood alcohol limit is
increased to 0.08% for adult drivers. If, at the conclusion of the trial,
the results suggest no significant increase in deaths and injuries, the
increase should be made permanent.
for breaching traffic laws should not necessarily include the combined
penalties of a large fine plus points leading to loss of licence. Offenders
should be given the option of paying a fine without losing points, or
losing points without a large fine.
revenue from traffic fines should be quarantined and used for something
highly unpopular such as paying the salaries of politicians. This would
ensure the emphasis was on modifying driver behaviour rather than
taxes, as with all taxes, should be substantially reduced by eliminating
government waste, duplication, unnecessary regulation and excessive
bureaucracy. The fuel excise tax should be immediately reduced by 10 cents
fuels, whether petrol, diesel, LPG, ethanol or CNG, should be subject to
the same level of tax. The government should not favour one fuel over
another (other than continuing to exempt fuels produced by individuals for
design, construction and maintenance must improve. This includes improving
roads and roadsides to reduce the risk of crashes and minimise harm,
measures for higher speed roads including dividing traffic, and providing
clear driver guidance.
where the private sector is involved, it is legitimate for governmom
other countries, provided the information is made available to road
designers who are then under a tortious obligation to incorporate it into