EDITORIAL COMMENT: Give road toll a break during long weekend

PUBLIC holidays are a welcome relief from the monotony of daily routine for many of us, with the upcoming Labour Day break no different.

But these reprieves for most offer no respite for the police patrolling our roads, who often spend these times delivering some of the worst news imaginable.

Adding to the heartbreak of tragedies on our roads is the reality that many are avoidable, with speed and alcohol cited as recurring factors. Northern region traffic technician Chief Inspector Bruce McGregor points out that out of 79 major crashes during last year’s Operation Slowdown, 11 involved alcohol, a ratio he said was the highest in the state. 

It is unclear what remains foggy about drink-driving in the public consciousness given the message from police does not change. Perhaps research by Professor Melaine Tannenbaum and colleagues offers some insight. Published by the American Psychological Association, their paper notes fear-based appeals such as those stressing penalties or death are more effective for motivating one-off behaviours such as voting or vaccination than affecting long-term changes.  

NSW Centre for Road Safety data shows there have been improvements at a state level, with drink-driving fatalities reduced from 244 in 1980 to 44 in 2012. But still Chief Inspector McGregor’s data from last year lingers, as well as the fact seven people have died on NSW roads since Friday.

The sudden and devastating loss of a friend, colleague or family member are the permanent consequences of a moment of inattention, or a drink too many, that should stick in the forefront of every driver’s mind when they get behind the wheel.

Many trade short commutes for long-haul trips to make the most of public holidays, an understandable decision but one that requires a certain degree of caution. It is also worth remembering that the driver who takes the risk is not always the person to suffer its consequences, with cyclists and pedestrians also active during holidays.

There has never been more information so readily available to drivers about the precise risks associated with a range of driving behaviours. Whatever the reason the lesson requires constant reinforcement, it offers no excuse for ignoring known dangers.

Perhaps this long weekend is a good time to give our emergency services a break of their own, by taking extra care on the road.

Issue: 38,607