Two months ago, at the launch of the Inquiry report into the Effectiveness of the National Road Safety Strategy 2011-2020, I reflected on my week as a trauma surgeon at Liverpool Hospital in Sydney.
Monday had begun as a routine week for me, with a vascular elective surgical list. By 9.30am, a young girl had been admitted following a road crash. She was brought urgently to the room next to where I was operating.
As the emergency operation proceeded and finished, I reflected that this 17-year-old woman had started the day going to school with her father, who was driving. I stared at her blood on my gloves and at the seven plastic packs on the floor which had contained blood needed for her resuscitation, each donated by a separate Australian. I reflected on the sight of her abdomen left open, a metre of bowel in a bucket, as she was wheeled to the intensive care unit.
The following day she went back to theatre for further surgery on her L3 lumbar vertebrate which had burst.
She was one of a hundred Australians, seriously injured in a car crash, who had been managed in a similar way that Monday.
Since the launch of the Inquiry, Transport and Infrastructure Ministers from around the country, have met to discuss the recommendations put forward. The Inquiry, co-chaired by Professor Jeremy Woolley and I, called for a transformative approach to road safety. We hope that the ministers demonstrate the leadership required, by engaging collaboratively in a coordinated effort to implement all the recommendations proposed.
Surgeons see the carnage from road crashes daily. Each year across Australia more than 1,200 people are killed and at least 36,000 are hospitalised. That is the equivalent of the population of a medium-sized country town, seriously injured each year, year after year.
Severe injury from road crashes imposes a heavy burden on health care services and families. The lifetime costs of traumatic brain injury and spinal injury are estimated to be $8.6 billion and $2 billion respectively.
Infrastructure projects help build the economy. Preventable death and preventable serious injury on infrastructure should not be an inevitable cost associated with road travel - currently costing $30 billion every year. A greater emphasis of harm elimination integrally engineered into infrastructure is essential.
Agencies responsible for road safety should be able to demonstrate the benefits of policy measures in terms of a reduced number of crashes, fatalities and serious injuries, with reliable data available in near real time.
Every year 1.2 million new vehicles arrive in Australia. South Korea implemented mandatory autonomous emergency braking, and electronic stability control as a regulated requirement of all newly arriving vehicles last year. Why can't we, as a nation, be as agile?
Vision Zero by 2050 is a realistic goal, as is the intermediate goal of zero death and zero serious injuries in major central business districts and interconnecting highways by 2030. We know it can be done, because there are 27 towns in NSW which have not recorded a single death from road crashes in the past five years.
Each month, there are one hundred of us who won't be here anymore. If their grave stones were added to the lawns outside Parliament House each month, we wouldn't complacently accept business as usual. We would acknowledge the burden of road trauma as a silent public health epidemic, and act swiftly with the scale and stimulus needed to end this tragedy.
The barriers of federalism, siloism between agencies, passive verbs incorporated in road safety action policies, absence of nominated authorities responsible for action, and a lack of calibration tools embedded in policy should not be allowed to continue, for if they do, so too will the current devastation on our roads.