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In 1970, a shocking 3,798 people lost their lives on Australian roads.

As a nation, we said enough is enough, and the intervening years have seen a number of sweeping changes to legislation to protect lives.

Victoria was the first jurisdiction in the world to introduce mandatory seatbelt laws, random breath testing began, and speed cameras are now a common fixture on main roads around the country. The results of these measures spoke for themselves. By 2019, the death toll on our roads had reduced to 1,097.

Sadly though, recent statistics now paint a picture of regression. We have seen a gradual increase in the national road toll over the past three years – is 2023 alone, 1266 people lost their lives on Australia’s roads. That’s 7.3% more than the year before, and the highest number since 2016.

So, what is contributing to this rise in the number of deaths on our roads, and what can we do to save lives on our roads?

Road toll statistics around Australia

The most drastic increase in road and vehicle-related deaths in 2023 was in South Australia, which experienced a devastating 64.8% increase, from 71 in 2022 to 117 in 2023.

New South Wales reported a death toll of 351 – an increase of 24.9% year on year – and Victoria reported 294 deaths, which is 22.5% higher than in 2022.

Other states and territories, thankfully, saw fewer deaths on their roads.

Australian Capital Territory saw the biggest drop with 4 deaths in 2023, down from 18 the previous year – a 77.8% decrease.

Queensland reported a 6.7% drop in road related-deaths, Western Australia a 9.7% drop, Tasmania a 33.3% decrease and Northern Territory a reduction of 34%.

How does our road toll compare to other countries?

In a study of the road death rates of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, Australia ranked 18th out of 31. The countries with the lowest rates were Norway, Sweden and Iceland.

Tragically, car accidents are the leading cause of death among men aged 15–24 in Australia. Road deaths also account for a large proportion of total injury deaths, second only behind suicide.

Why are more people dying on our roads?

During the COVID-19 pandemic, people bought more cars to avoid using public transport, and the popularity of SUVs and four-wheel drives skyrocketed.

The hangover effect of this is still being felt today. Lockdowns may have ended but public-transport usage has still not returned to pre-pandemic levels. More people commuting by car, and choosing domestic driving holidays rather than overseas trips, means there are more cars on the road which has contributed to more accidents.

Speeding continues to be the biggest contributing factor to deaths on our roads. In NSW, speeding contributes to 41% of all deaths on its roads each year, and in 2020, the Victorian Transport Accident Commission (TAC) reported that speeding was a factor in one-in-three fatal crashes.

Distracted driving – the majority of which is made up by drivers using their mobile phones – is another significant road safety issue. In Queensland, an estimated 28 lives are lost each year in accidents caused by distracted drivers. 69% of Queensland drivers admit to using their mobile phone illegally on more than 10% of their car trips.

Despite extensive awareness campaigns, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and driving tired continue to account for too many road-related deaths.

In Victoria, 1 in 5 drivers killed each year are over the legal limit, and driving tire contributes to around 16-20% of all road-related deaths.

What can we do to bring down our road toll?

The Australian Government and all states and territories are working together to reach a goal of zero deaths and serious injuries on our roads by 2050, targeting a number of areas such as better infrastructure planning, improving the safety of regional and remote roads, higher vehicle safety standards and awareness campaigns around risky road use.

But there are a few simple ways drivers can take to protect themselves, their families and all road users.

Here are five simple steps all drivers can take to stay safe on our roads:

1. Slow down

Driving even slightly over the speed limit puts yourself and others in danger. Driving just 5km per hour less greatly reduces the risk of death or serious injury if you do crash.

2. Play hard to get

Don’t touch your phone while you’re driving. Use a hands-free Bluetooth device to answer calls or consider putting your phone on ‘do not disturb’ while driving, and if you’re using your phone for navigation, enter your destination before you set off.

3. Don’t drive tired

Driving after being awake for 17 hours means you are just as impaired as someone with a blood alcohol level of 0.05. Make sure you’re well rested before heading off on a trip, and take regular breaks on a long journey – 15 minutes every two hours.

4. Don’t drink and drive

We all know this one. If you’re drinking, plan to have a designated driver, take a taxi or use a rideshare service, or make use of public transport

5. Buckle-up

Wearing a seat belt halves your chance of dying if you are in a crash. Always make sure you buckle-up when you get in a car.

If you or a loved one have been injured on the road, we can help.

Use our free claim check tool to find out if you have a claim, or contact us today to speak with one of our expert road accident lawyers.

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