Transport support urgently needed to improve road safety in remote communities: survey

A road safety survey highlights how to reduce risk for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in remote and rural communities.

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A survey led by researchers from UNSW Sydney, The George Institute and the University of Wollongong highlights the urgent need for targeted road safety programmes in rural and remote communities to reduce the risk of road injury.

The findings offer a glimpse into road safety for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in remote, rural and urban communities in Australia.

In most countries including Australia, fatality rates remain far higher for those in regional or rural areas.

The researchers conducted face-to-face surveys with 625 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from urban and regional communities in NSW and remote communities in South Australia. Their work was published last week in Injury Prevention.

Previous studies in other research groups have shown Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia experience fatal road crashes at two to three times the rate of the rest of the community and sustain serious injuries at the rate of about 20% higher.

The survey aimed to describe crash history and driver behaviour and attitudes. It included questions on sociodemographic factors, crash involvement, road behaviours and road safety attitudes.

Among the findings, 7% of those surveyed reported having been involved in a car crash within the past 12 months, of which two-thirds were the driver. Self-reported seat belt wearing rates were very high with 97.6% reported ‘always’ wearing a seat belt when riding in the front of the car. However rear seat belt rates in South Australia (77%) were substantially lower than in NSW (93%).

Among drivers, 11% reported always or mostly driving 10km/h over the speed limit. This was especially prevalent in women and participants in remote communities.

“Self-reported speeding was higher among women and participants in remote communities, and there was low use of rear seatbelts in remote communities,” says lead author Dr Patricia Cullen from the School of Public Health and Community Medicine at UNSW Sydney.

“For seatbelt use, it is likely that this is due as much to availability of restraints, low rates of licensed drivers in communities and lack of access to alternative transport, which can contribute to overloading of passengers.”

Dr Cullen says this can be addressed through comprehensive licensing support programs and alternative transport schemes. Supporting people to safely and legally access affordable transport will reduce overloading and unsafe driving practices that contribute to road injury and incarceration.

Key points

  • The survey aimed to describe Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people crash history, driver behaviour and attitudes.
  • 7% reported having been involved in a car crash within the past 12 months, of which two-thirds were the driver.
  • Seat belt wearing rates were very high: 97.6% reported ‘always’ wearing a seat belt when riding in the front of a car.
  • However rear seat belt rates in South Australia (77%) were lower than in NSW (93%).
  • 11% reported always or mostly driving 10km/h over the speed limit. This was especially prevalent in women and participants in remote communities.
  • Authors say there is an urgent need for targeted road safety programmes in rural and remote communities. 

Aside from the Community Attitude to Road Safety (CARS) survey conducted Australia-wide in 2013, there is limited research about underlying causes or contributing factors to car crashes involving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. This presents an obstacle to developing targeted programs.

The publication’s authors, which include UNSW Sydney, The George Institute for Global Health, University of Wollongong, Queensland University of Technology, Flinders University and UTS, say the findings highlight the need for access to alternative transport options and adequate support programs that allow people to safely access transport and comply with road safety laws.

“It is likely that overloading and low seatbelt use are major contributors to the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in road deaths and this requires urgent attention,” says Dr Cullen.

“Similarly, speed remains a significant issue and is a factor in higher crash rates on regional and remote roads. The high rates of reported speeding in our sample of drivers in remote communities in SA and among women suggest that speeding campaigns are not adequately reaching Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander drivers who are women and/or live in remote areas.”

“Solutions do not have to involve over-policing,” says senior author Professor Rebecca Ivers.

“Given the disproportionate number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people incarcerated for regulatory road related offences, it seems likely that traditional enforcement-based initiatives are likely to result in increased numbers of people with prohibitive fines, potentially leading to greater inequality in incarceration.”

Aboriginal co-author Professor Kathleen Clapham, from the Australian Health Services Research Institute at the University of Wollongong, pointed out that there are multiple examples of successful Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-led prevention programmes across Australia.

However, there has been an absence of data, few evaluated programs and therefore little investment in Aboriginal specific road crash prevention. This study provides additional information about the underlying road safety issues in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

“We need systems-level programmes that are culturally and gender appropriate to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to safely access transport and comply with road safety laws,” says Professor Clapham.

“Programs, for example around licensing, restraint use and community transport should be co-designed and led by Aboriginal communities and involve, engage and employ Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”