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It's Less the What than the How, But . . .

Australia's achievements are applauded internationally, but the applause is frequently followed by "yes, but . . ." The "but" queries the ability to replicate the degree of traffic safety legislation and regulation and the accompanying intense levels of enforcement.

Australia certainly has a history of pioneering traffic safety legislation. It was the first country in the world to mandate helmet wearing for bicyclists and motorcyclists and seatbelt use by both adults and children. Australia was a leader in introducing speed cameras, random breath testing for alcohol-impaired driving, and, very recently in Victoria, random roadside saliva screening for drug-impaired driving. In addition, the levels of enforcement are intense by international standards.

While the evaluation research has shown high levels of effectiveness for most of these measures, it would be wrong to assume that Australia's success turned entirely on the implementation of behavior-control measures. It is more that, of all the measures in the traffic safety toolbox, legislation and intense enforcement, supported by public education to secure community support, are the types of interventions most likely to produce systemwide results in a short timeframe. Australia has also benefited greatly from improvements in vehicle and road infrastructure safety. Indeed, the strategic plans now emerging focus on the need for greater investment in creating and maintaining a safe system.

The implementation of a suite of behavior-control measures in Australia is a reflection of the level of political commitment to improving traffic safety and the consequent building of coalitions among the implementing agencies and within the wider community to support these efforts. Community support and political willingness to act are essential.

The Victorian community seems to accept the notion of a "social contract," the willingness to cede to the government the right to control some areas of daily life in exchange for the government accepting the obligation to provide levels of protection. Such acceptance is not an inherent property of a community; it evolves from positive experiences that build a degree of ongoing trust. While the origins of Victoria's apparent willingness to accept a social contract for road safety must remain speculative, the following can be suggested:

Nevertheless, it would be wrong to conclude that legislation and its vigorous enforcement are the only factors in Victoria's success. One must not overlook the full gamut of measures, implemented effectively through an integrated, coordinated approach.

The critical success factors for an effective program to reduce serious injury and death are summarized below. Note that there is nothing about specific measures. The keys are knowing what the big problems are, selecting interventions known to be effective, and systematically implementing those for which political and community support can be garnered. Different packages of measures will have different aggregate impacts, require different levels of investment, and operate on different timeframes, but many different packages will work.

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Page last modified on November 7, 2014
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