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Road safety: a shared responsibility

Watch Gabby O’Neill, the head of the Office of Road Safety in Australia, discuss the National Road Safety Strategy and reducing road trauma.
-Gabby, I’d like to extend a big welcome to you. Tell us about your role with the Office of Road Safety. -Today, I am speaking from Kaurna Country, which stretches across the Adelaide Plains of South Australia. So I always start by acknowledging the custodians of the land on where we meet and pay my respects to Elders past, present and emerging, and anyone in the audience as well. So the Office of Road Safety was established just over two years ago. It’s responsible for providing national coordination and leadership in road safety, and I’m the head of that office. And I’ve got a great team below me working to provide the right programs and tools to prevent fatal and serious injuries across the country.
-Fantastic, and it’s such an important role that the office plays today in Australia. So Gabby, road safety is a significant issue for Australia. Can you give us some idea around the scale of that challenge today? -Currently there are about 1,200 people killed annually and a further 40,000 seriously injured on our roads. So it’s significant. And serious injuries are currently climbing at about 3% a year. So it’s an increasing problem. For children, we have about 60 children, aged 16 or below, annually killed on our roads. So it’s a target we need to reach to zero as soon as possible. The loss of a child in a family, in a community really has huge impacts.
And of course, most of our fatal injuries occur in regional communities and on regional roads. So these are troubling statistics. They’re really tough reading. And so it’s really important for us to focus on how to prevent those injuries occurring in the first place. And also, what we can do to reduce any severity of injury, because we do know that crashes will happen, and it’s about making sure that a crash doesn’t lead to a fatal or serious injury in the longterm. -Yeah. Such important work. And yeah, it’s really quite sad to hear that they are the statistics today.
And can you also tell us a little bit about the National Road Safety Strategy 2021 to 2030 and what it aims to achieve? -The National Road Safety Strategy recognises that road safety isn’t just a transport problem, and transport agencies and government alone won’t be able to help us reach zero. We need to reach further. So we’ve employed the social model approach, which is where we’re stretching out beyond our traditional areas or spheres of influence and trying to tap into networks and others who can help us get there.
The National Road Safety Strategy sets the direction for all states and territory governments, as well as local government, to commit to reduced trauma by a 50% reduction in deaths and a 30% reduction in serious injuries on our roads by 2030. It’s the first stage towards building to Vision Zero. Vision Zero is where we’re aiming to achieve zero fatal and zero serious injuries by 2050. So this is based on a safe system approach where we have all parts of our system interlocked and working together to reduce and work to prevent deaths and serious injuries. -And we’re also, of course, very excited to see the target in the strategy of zero deaths of children seven years and under.
That is just fantastic to see. And, you know, be just wonderful to hear from you why this is important for Australia and what is the approach. You’ve mentioned the the social model. You might wanna expand on that a little bit for the audience today. That would be great. -The target of children seven years and under and trying to reach zero in fatal injuries by 2030 is particularly important to me. What we’re doing is we’re targeting the most vulnerable sector of our society. Those that aren’t control of their own behaviours, they don’t have the skills to cross the road on their own, they need supervision. So if we’re targeting the most vulnerable, we’ll encompass everybody.
There are many sort of layers within the social model that go down to the individual. But what we’re really trying to affect are those middle layers, where you’re part of an organisation or a professional body or a community. When I think of occupational therapists and the allied health sector in particular, I’m thinking about that contact they have with children, with families, with those we know that need care, support and information, and that one-on-one conversations and communications they have with their clients or patients, it’s invaluable in portraying information and on a one-to-one level. But overall, they’re having a very large professional influence.
-Yeah, it’s an absolutely important role that the allied health community play and a key part of this training helps allied health professionals consider their scope of practice in this area. And we are encouraging allied health professionals to embed road safety practice into their day-to-day work, and that’s through developing a motor vehicle transport plan for children and families that they work with. And it’s a very proactive approach to supporting the vulnerable members of our community. And of course, that takes all other parts of the system being activated to take on their role, so allied health professionals can provide that really close support for the families that they work with.
And so of course, our goals through the training is to develop the skills and knowledge of allied health professionals and to give them that confidence to undertake that role. And how do you see this approach contributing to Australia’s road safety targets? -For all allied health professionals, they have that ability to provide information and supports with specialist harness, restraints. That really supports injury prevention, because, you know, I’m a professional in the road safety space and I know crashes will happen. What I wanna do is reduce the harm that happen to people, reduce any severity of injury when those crashes do happen, so that people aren’t hospitalised or left with a lifelong injury.
And a properly fitted restraint can support children remaining safe in the car and also prevent that interference with the driver. So we’ve got lots of opportunity here to support families traveling safe, carers being safe as they’re driving, and then should a crash happen, they’re protected, the children are protected, and we get towards our goal of improving road safety. -Yeah. Thank you, Gabby, And thank you for sharing what a shared responsibility really looks like. And a lot of what you’ve talked about today with that social model is activating those parts.
And it’s how the role of people working in the transport sector, people working in that face-to-face delivery, how the disability sector, how we understand those respective roles and how well do they work together to protect the most vulnerable. So we really value your contribution to the learning today. And I hope all of those hearing from you today have a better understanding about the goals and targets of the Office of Road Safety through the National Road Safety Strategy. And we’re glad to be a part of the journey that we hope we will contribute to achieving those targets for Australia. -Thanks, Helen.
I really appreciate the role that allied health professionals can play, and also hope that they’re motivated to provide that extra support within vehicles or in other ways crossing the road. But I also want them to know how valued they are in the community and across society, because of that valuable contact they have with families.

Australia’s National Road Safety Strategy 2021-30 encourages people and organisations to work together to foster a safety culture that embeds road safety into business as usual.

In this video, Gabby O’Neill, the head of the Office of Road Safety in Australia, explores the National Road Safety Strategy and its targets to reduce road trauma.

The Safe System approach

Road safety strategies and programs are often delivered by government authorities and include targets for reducing serious injuries and deaths. In Australia and many countries around the world, these strategies are underpinned by the Safe System approach.

The Safe System (also known as Vision Zero or Towards Zero) views human life and health as paramount and should be the primary consideration when designing a road network.

The elements of the Safe System approach are; safe people, safe roads, safe speeds, safe vehicles and post-crash care.

The safe system approach

This approach aims to improve the safety of all parts of the system, so that if one part fails, the other parts protect people from being killed or seriously injured.

With these elements working holistically, the system is more forgiving of human or mechanical error and aims at reducing the impact of a mistake made on the road resulting in a fatality or serious injury.

Traditionally, the responsibility for staying safe on our roads was placed on the individual. Under the Safe System approach businesses and organisations, road and vehicle designers, regulators and road users share this responsibility.

The Social Model approach

As Gabby mentioned, the National Road Safety Strategy has adopted a social model approach to foster a road safety culture. This approach looks beyond the transport sector, governments and the road safety community to build wider community acceptance of road safety solutions.

This approach recognises the importance of relationships across groups, agencies and sectors, enabling allied health professionals and disability staff and organisations to contribute to improving road safety outcomes for vulnerable road users and their families.

allied health professionals working together

Achieving Vision Zero

Achieving Vision Zero requires that the transport needs of children with disabilities and medical conditions are equal to the needs of other road users. As a step towards achieving Vision Zero by 2050, Australia’s new National Road Safety Strategy targets zero deaths of children aged seven and under, by 2030. This presents a unique opportunity to ensure the transport needs of children with disabilities become business as usual.

Your Task

task list and pen

Respond to these questions and post your thoughts in the comments.

  • How will the social model approach help achieve Australia’s goal of zero deaths for children under seven years?
  • Reflect on the concept of shared responsibility and how you can contribute to improving road safety both personally and professionally.
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Transporting Children with Disabilities and Medical Conditions

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