This week is the United Nations Global Road Safety Week, a timely reminder of the need to take care on our roads and the deadly consequences that can arise when things go wrong.

Each year across Australia, more than 1,200 people are killed and another 44,000 are hospitalised due to crashes. That is the equivalent of the population of a medium-sized country town, seriously injured each year.

On a per capita the situation is even worse in Aotearoa New Zealand, with more people killed per 100,000 population. On average someone is killed on the country’s roads every day and approximately seven others are injured.

As medical professionals, surgeons see first-hand the full extent of road trauma, and the impacts that death and serious injuries can have on individuals, families and communities.

For decades, the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons has been at the forefront of the road safety movement, working collaboratively with stakeholders in both Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand.

The College was a major contributor towards mandatory seatbelt wearing in the 1970s, and drink driving counter-measures and the compulsory wearing of helmets by pedal cyclists in the 1980s and 1990s.

While proud of these achievements, RACS recognises that progress has plateaued and even begun to go backwards in recent years. This is despite a bipartisan commitment under the National Road Safety Strategy 2021-2030 in Australia to halve the rate of deaths and serious injuries on the roads by the end of the decade. A similar commitment has been made in Aotearoa New Zealand where a government campaign is in place aiming to reduce road deaths and serious injuries by 40 per cent between 2018 and 2030.

RACS Trauma Chair Dr Matthew Hope said Road Safety Week provides an important opportunity to promote road safety, but ultimately little will change without serious leadership and commitment.

“Over many years and through multiple road safety inquiries, RACS and other key stakeholders have provided recommendations and initiatives to improve safety on our roads but ultimately the key is action, accountability, assessment and measurability of targets.

“Many of the solutions to reducing our devastating road toll and creating safer roads have already been identified, particularly in relation to enhanced data collection. There is a growing sense of frustration at the delays taken to implement proven life-saving initiatives.”

“Road trauma is an epidemic. Until we treat it as such, tragically we will likely see just as many people killed or seriously injured on our roads this year as we did last year and the year before that.”

“While there is more for governments to do, it is important to remember that it is all our responsibility to ensure we take care on the roads. This dedicated week for road safety draws attention to this critical issue, but ultimately needs to be a priority for all of us every week. By embracing a mindset of ongoing vigilance and responsibility, we can all collectively contribute to safer roads and prevent more needless tragedies.”