Jo’Ann Duke’s final moments were marked by excruciating pain, trapped in the aftermath of a car crash caused by another driver’s reckless choice to speed onto the wrong side of the road. This tragedy unfolded on November 13, 2019, as Jo’Ann, a mother-of-three, was returning home after a shift at a local hospital in Sydney’s north, never reaching her destination. Sadly, Jo’Ann became one of over 5,800 individuals who lost their lives on Australian roads in the past five years.

In the wreckage, Jo’Ann’s husband, Mick Duke, vividly recalls the devastation, sharing that she endured extreme pain for 35 minutes while medical professionals did their utmost to save her. Despite their efforts, Jo’Ann did not survive, leaving Mick to grapple with the shattering impact of the loss. He reflects, “My world fell apart from that moment.”

While the annual road toll in Australia decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic, 2023 has witnessed an unexpected surge in fatalities, particularly in New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia. Vehicle crashes stand as the leading cause of death for Australian children and the second-highest for those aged 15-24.

With over 1,250 lives already lost in crashes this year, it marks the highest toll since 2016. Concerns are heightened as the New Year’s weekend approaches, expected to be a peak period for road activity.

The reasons behind this sudden increase remain unclear, prompting calls for action from both governments and the public. The Road Trauma Support Group NSW initiated a campaign urging a shift in language, discouraging the use of the term “accident” to describe crashes. Duncan Wakes-Miller, the group’s founder, argues that the term implies inevitability and absolves dangerous drivers of blame. Instead, they propose using the term “crash,” which doesn’t assume innocence or guilt.

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Jo’Ann Duke’s family actively supports this linguistic shift, expressing dissatisfaction with the less-than-two-and-a-half-year sentence given to the speeding driver responsible for Jo’Ann’s death. They argue that using the term “accident” downplays the severity of the incident and shields the offender from accountability.

The Australian Road Safety Foundation deems the increase in road deaths in 2023 as “disturbing.” Russell White, the foundation’s CEO, emphasizes the need for increased police presence in highway patrol and random breath testing to deter reckless driving. He calls for a national approach, urging the federal government to play a more active role in implementing strategies to reduce the road toll. White underscores the importance of early and continuous road safety education, highlighting road trauma as the leading cause of death for young Australians.


Road Safety Funding Boost

A recent injection of $168 million in road safety funding is poised to save lives by enhancing the conditions of regional and urban roads, footpaths, and cycleways. As the road toll continues to rise, with 109 fatalities on South Australian roads this year alone, the Malinauskas Government has increased its financial commitment to match the Commonwealth’s $84 million pledge under the Road Safety Program. This joint funding, disclosed in the Mid-Year Budget Review, supplements the $98 million allocated in the 2023-24 State Budget, resulting in a combined total of $266 million over the next five years. The primary objective is to mitigate injuries and fatalities on South Australian roads.

This substantial investment encompasses various regional projects such as shoulder sealing, audio-tactile line markings, delineation, roadside barriers, lane/curve widening, and pavement works. The aim is to elevate the safety rating of regional roads where improvements are undertaken to at least a 3-star level. The specific projects and locations are currently in development and will be determined throughout 2024.

With approximately half of this year’s road fatalities occurring in regional areas, the new Road Safety Program also allocates funds for infrastructure enhancements that prioritize the safety of pedestrians and cyclists. This includes new crossings, safety upgrades at existing intersections, and improvements to strategic bikeways. Priority will be given to upgrading crossings to ensure the safety of individuals walking and cycling to school.

In response to this initiative, notable figures such as Stephen Mullighan, Geoff Brock, and Joe Szakacs express their support for the collaboration between state and federal governments in improving road safety. They emphasize the critical need to enhance regional road networks, make journeys safer, and address the challenges posed by a tragic year of fatalities. Federal Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Carol Brown also acknowledges the shared responsibility in working towards the Vision Zero target, aiming for zero deaths and serious injuries on roads by 2050.

Charles Mountain, RAA Senior Manager Safety & Infrastructure, welcomes the additional $168 million investment, emphasizing its positive impact on road safety, particularly in regional areas and for vulnerable road users. The commitment to prioritizing projects that protect cyclists, pedestrians, and school children aligns with the broader goal of creating safer roads and preventing injuries, especially in light of the challenging year experienced on South Australian roads.




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