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Forum discusses keys to reducing rural road toll

By Vanessa Wiltshire

DRIVER education, together with improved road safety, design and maintenance could help reduce deaths on rural roads.

That was the feedback from more than 100 community representatives who attended the regional road safety forum in Bendigo.

Held last Tuesday at the Bendigo and District RSL, the forum followed the Melbourne Road Safety Summit in May, where road safety experts and community leaders gathered to discuss what more could be done to address the horror start to the year on Victoria’s roads.

The first six of the eight forums were held in Ballarat, Marysville, Shepparton, Sale, Geelong and Portland since early July, with hundreds of community members sharing their experiences and knowledge of their local roads.

Facilitated by the TAC, participants were invited to discuss road safety in groups across the four areas of the Andrews Labor Government’s Towards Zero strategy: safer people, roads, vehicles and speeds.

The Bendigo event was held just one day shy of the two-year anniversary of a major accident on the Northern Hwy between Pyalong and Tooborac, which local services attended.

At 4.40pm on September 4, 2017, a woman lost her life. A man in a separate vehicle was critically injured. He survived but continues to suffer.

Members of the Heathcote SES team attended the forum, together with McIvor Times journalist Vanessa Wiltshire, who was first on scene.  A variety of people, including local and state government dignitaries, CFA representatives, police, SES, Vic/Regional Roads and members of the community (Bendigo region) also attended.

Over an hour, participants were given the opportunity to provide feedback and engage in conversation. The event was respectfully carried out and efficiently captured the views of participants. At the end, TAC representatives summarised feedback by reading out the major themes.

While many ideas were shared, the overarching message was increased and improved driver education, together with better road design, maintenance and safety, will reduce the road toll.

Can we reach a 'zero'? The audience was split. But everyone agreed we must try.

It has been a devastating year to date on Victoria’s roads, with 196 deaths (as of midnight September 8), compared with 137 at the same time last year. Most of these deaths have occurred on regional roads, where 107 people have died.

So far this year, 29 people have died on the roads in the Bendigo region including, Greater Bendigo, Campaspe, Central Goldfields, Gannawarra, Horsham, Loddon, Macedon Ranges, Mount Alexander, Mitchell, Northern Grampians, Strathbogie and Buloke.  Last year, 27 people died on roads in these regions and a further 70 people were seriously injured.

“It has been a tragic year on Victorian roads and sadly the Bendigo region hasn’t been spared, with too many families mourning the loss of a loved one,” Minister for Roads, Road Safety and TAC Jaala Pulford said.

“It continues to be regional roads that are overrepresented and heartbreakingly it is mostly country people dying close to home.”   

The Labor Government will consider the ideas from the summit and forums as part of the development of the next Victorian road safety strategy.

There is still time to contribute your thoughts on regional and rural road safety. Visit: https://www.tac.vic.gov.au/road-safety/towards-zero/regional-road-safety-forum