Making our roads safer for everyone
Every year more than 400 people are killed on NSW roads and 25,000 are injured. The major behavioural contributors to this are speeding, drink driving, fatigue and not wearing seatbelts.
Major behavioural factors for deaths of drivers/riders aged 17-25:
Major cause of death and injury every year (costing $1.5 billion annually)
Speeding is exceeding the speed limit or driving too fast for the conditions (even though this may be below the zoned limit).
There’s no such thing as safe speeding as any speeding increases crash risk – there’s no acceptable level.
5km/h over the speed limit means 32km/h on impact
Two cars brake when a truck unexpectedly appears 38m away.
The one travelling at 65km/h hits the truck at 32km/h.
The other travelling 60km/h hits the truck at 5km/h.
Speeding crashes involve all age groups. However, 50% of these crashes involve males aged 17-39 – so they’re a very risky group.
Speed limit signs show the maximum allowed speed in good conditions – you can drive slower (within reason) if you choose.
Slow down in poor conditions including:
- Road surfaces affected by gravel, oil, sand, ice, mud, snow and water
- Poor light, night and fog
- Crests or curves when vision is limited
- The potential for unfenced stock and wildlife
Driving on unsealed roads requires extra care (and lower speeds) as vehicles require more distance to stop and are harder to control. This means risk of skidding, sliding or rolling increases.
Driving through water requires caution as the road surface may be damaged or there could be debris. Vehicles are limited to a certain depth of water they can safely drive through and it’s difficult to assess depth in a car.
Safe driving during severe weather events
Driving should be avoided during severe weather. If unavoidable, drive with caution and adjust speed for the conditions. Listen for weather updates to avoid danger. Pack water and rest regularly at appropriate locations.
Alcohol, drugs, medicines and driving
Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol is illegal as it increases your crash risk. Read labels to ensure a product does not contain alcohol (ethanol) or has a warning about affecting driving ability.
Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) is a measure of the amount of alcohol in your blood (0.05 = 50 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood). The safest BAC for any licence holder is zero. To avoid drinking and driving you can:
- Leave the car at home
- Plan alternatives including taxi, public transport or a designated driver
- Stay at a friend’s place
Effects of alcohol (a depressant) on driving:
- Slows brain function and reflexes
- Reduces ability to judge your and others’ speed
- Gives false confidence in driving ability
- Makes it harder to multitask
- Affects balance and coordination
- Makes you sleepy/fatigued
Even if you feel unaffected you may be at a high risk. Increased alcohol levels increases crash risk. 0.05 BAC = 2 x risk, 0.08 BAC = 7 x risk, 0.15 = 25 x risk.
BAC limits are zero for learner and provisional drivers (no alcohol consumption). On Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, about 50% of crashes are alcohol-related (which usually means they’re more serious).
Factors that contribute to a higher BAC
Alcoholic drinks come in different sizes and concentrations making it hard for you to know your BAC. It is impossible to estimate because:
- Serving size varies
- Topping up drinks means you don’t know the number you’ve consumed
- Size and weight impact alcohol absorption
- Smaller person will have higher BAC quicker
- Gender can impact alcohol absorption
- Woman will likely have a higher BAC quicker
- General health and fitness can affect alcohol processing
- Other drugs may affect alcohol processing
- It can take more than 18 hours to get back to zero
- Only time will sober you up, not showers, food or drink
Breath tests can be randomly carried out by any police vehicle. You (and any supervising driver) will be asked to speak or blow into an approved device. If you’re over the limit you will be arrested and go back to the station for further testing. If over the limit you can be charged, photographed and required to appear in court (and a warrant will be issued for your arrest if you do not show).
Blood tests will be taken if you are admitted to hospital with injuries from a crash. Drink driving penalties include fines, loss of licence and imprisonment.
Effects of drugs on driving include impairing driving skills and causing you to take risks you wouldn’t otherwise consider, endangering yourself, passengers and road users.
Avoid mixing drugs as this can be dangerous. Read medication labels for warnings and don’t drive if there are known side effects that impact driving. Don’t take someone else’s prescription medication. Ask a doctor or pharmacist if in doubt.
Mobile phone and visual display units
Mobiles are allowed for calls, audio and GPS only when securely mounted or an automated audio device is used. Touching the phone is illegal. If not mounted, the driver can only touch the phone to pass it to a passenger. All mountings must be commercially manufactured and positioned so a driver’s vision is not obscured.
Contributes to 20% of fatalities on NSW roads. Fatigue affects everyone regardless of experience.
What is driver fatigue? Feeling ‘sleepy’, ‘tired’ or ‘exhausted’. Best way to avoid is plenty of sleep. Best way to treat is to stop and rest until refreshed.
Facts about fatigue
- Fatigue is most prevalent during hours you are normally asleep as your blood pressure and temperature falls (impairing your ability to perform tasks). Fatigue crash risk is 4 times higher between 10pm and 6am (early afternoon is also a high risk time).
- Average daily sleep requirement is 8 hours. If you go below this you acquire a ‘sleep debt’ that can only be repaid by more sleep.
- Longer you’re awake, the higher the risk of driver fatigue.
- ‘Sleep inertia’ is the 15-20 minute period after waking up in which you are at a high risk of driver fatigue.
- Longer you drive, the higher the risk of driver fatigue. Stop, revive, survive for 15 minutes every 2 hours.
Signs of driver fatigue
Some effects of fatigue are as dangerous as the effects of alcohol as it impairs concentration and judgement and slows reactions/reflexes. Early signs include:
- Poor concentration
- Tired or sore eyes
- Slow reactions
- Feeling irritable
- Missing road signs
- Having difficulty staying in the lane
- Making fewer and larger steering corrections
Tips to avoiding driver fatigue
- Get plenty of sleep before driving
- Avoid starting a long drive at the end of the day
- Avoid driving between 10pm and 6am or when you would normally be asleep
- Share driving
- Stop, revive, survive for 15 minutes every two hours
- Pull over and stop when you notice the warning signs of fatigue
- Have light snacks rather than fatty foods
- Avoid too much coffee or sweet soft drinks
- Drink plenty of water – dehydration can cause fatigue
- Stay away from alcohol at all costs
- Stop before you’re tired
Microsleeps are brief, unintended periods of unconsciousness characterised by head snapping, nodding or closing your eyes. Monotonous tasks (like driving) can cause microsleeps that last for a few seconds or a few minutes. At 100km/h a 4-second microsleep will mean the car will travel 110m without the driver having any control.
Community Driver Reviver sites operate to provide tea, coffee, snacks and local road advice to travellers taking a break during peak holiday travel periods.
Roadside rest areas are safe places open 24 hours to stop and revive during a long journey. They are clearly signposted along highways.
Not wearing a seatbelt kills 80 people and injures 600 a year.
Seatbelts and child restraints
Seatbelts save lives and reduce injuries in crashes by preventing people from being thrown around in the car, thrown from the car and colliding with other occupants. Seatbelts slow your body down and put crash forces on stronger parts of the body.
The driver is responsible for ensuring all passengers are using seatbelts or approved child restraints. Penalties apply if a driver or any of their passengers fails to use seatbelts. Passengers over 16 not using a seatbelt will also be fined.
Child restraints or approved seatbelts are legal requirements for children under 16.
- Always use as the manufacturer recommends
- Never share a seatbelt with a child, they could be crushed during braking
- Don’t carry children in your arms, they could be crushed or thrown around or from the vehicle
- Children up to 7 must be in an approved child restraint or booster seat
- Children should be given priority for available seatbelts
Children in standard seatbelts
From 1 March 2010, children up to 7 must be in an approved child restraint suitable for their age and size. These children must travel in the rear seat of a vehicle unless aged 4 to 7 and all available rear seats are taken by younger children. Booster cushions should not be used with a lap only seatbelt unless there is an accompanying child harness.
What type of child restraint to use
Approved restraints have the Standards Australia label displayed and are available for children up to 32 kg and/or 10 years old. An Authorised Safety Restraint Fitting Station should professionally fit restraints based on the manufacturer’s instructions.
The influence of passengers
Passengers can be positive if they help to identify hazards, change CDs and/or act as navigator. Two or more passengers may have a negative impact if they distract the driver with noise and poor behaviour (e.g. encouraging risky driving). As it is your responsibility to drive safely you may need to limit the number of passengers you carry or discuss your expectations before driving.
Overcrowding is dangerous
It is dangerous and illegal to have too many people in your car (e.g. people sitting on the floor or on laps). All passengers should be seated and wearing seatbelts or other restraints. A driver must not drive with a person in their lap.
Keeping inside a vehicle
A person must have any part of their body on the vehicle, outside a window or door, unless the driver is giving a hand signal for changing direction, stopping or slowing.
Sharing the road
Every road user must share the road by respecting the needs of everyone.
We all make mistakes. If a driver does something that startles/annoys you, you mustn’t respond in a threatening or aggressive manner. Road rage is dangerous and illegal. If somebody is aggressive towards you, remain calm and don’t aggravate the situation.
Sharing the road with pedestrians
Pedestrians have a right to share the road. You should always be prepared to stop for pedestrians. Pedestrians are particularly vulnerable when they are children, the elderly or affected by drugs or alcohol. You should drive slowly and be prepared to stop near:
- Pedestrian crossings or traffic lights
- Children walking, playing or riding bikes
- Clubs, hotels and restaurants
- Shopping centres and other busy places
- Schools, particularly around start and finish times
- Parked cars or stopped buses
- Intersections where pedestrians cross
- Special events
When are pedestrians at risk?
Take extra care in darkness or dusk as this is when more than half of pedestrian fatalities occur. Drive slowly and be prepared to stop when:
- Visibility is poor (rain, fog, at night, dawn or dusk)
- Entering or leaving a driveway as you must give way to pedestrians
- Approaching a stationary bus or light rail vehicle and passengers are getting off
- Pedestrians cross the road away from pedestrian crossings
- There are large crowds
- Pedestrians gather near and around licensed premises or special events
Safety tips for pedestrians
Cross the road at crossings and traffic lights and think about whether an approaching driver can see you.
- Before crossing the road – stop, look, listen and think
- Never assume that an approaching vehicle will stop
- Avoid crossing between parked cars or in front of buses
- Keep to the left side on shared bicycle/pedestrian paths
- Wear light or bright coloured clothing at night or in reduced visibility conditions
- Children up to 8 should hold an adult’s hand
- Children up to 10 should be supervised in traffic and hold an adult’s hand when crossing the road
- If you have been drinking alcohol, arrange to get a lift
- Do not cause a traffic hazard or unreasonably obstruct the path of a road user or other pedestrian
- Pedestrians must use footpaths and nature strips where provided. Where impractical, pedestrians must keep to the side of the road and walk facing oncoming traffic
Sharing the road with motorised wheelchairs
A motorised wheelchair user that cannot travel over 10km/h is defined as a pedestrian (and have the same rights and responsibilities and must follow the same rules). They may be difficult to see because they are generally below the height of and move faster than an average pedestrian.
Sharing the road with motorcyclists
Motorcyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as other road users but are far more vulnerable and far less stable (two wheels). Motorcycle riders are 20 times more likely to be killed in a road crash than car occupants.
Where are motorcyclists most at risk? On busy city roads (intersections and lane changes) and country roads (going through bends).
Safety tips for drivers sharing the road with motorcyclists
- Always be on the look out for motorcycles as they are smaller than cars and harder to see
- Do not drive alongside and in the same lane as a motorcycle
- Motorcycles need a full width lane to ride safely
- Allow motorcycles as much space as a car when overtaking them
- Regularly check your side and rear vision mirrors and blind spots by looking over your shoulder before merging or changing lanes
- Motorcycles can easily be hidden behind a truck or car
- Drive at a safe distance from motorcycles as they may need to avoid hazards such as flying debris, oil slicks and poor road conditions
- Allow extra time for them to stop
- Look for motorcycles before you turn or proceed at intersections
- Look out for motorcycles in slow moving traffic as they can manoeuvre faster
Sharing the road with bicycle riders
Cyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as other road users but are smaller and hard to see.
Safety tips when driving near bicycle riders
- Bicycle riders are difficult to see, especially at night
- Check for bicycle riders in blind spots
- When overtaking, give bicycle riders a safe amount of space (at least 1m in a 50km/h zone, more at higher speeds)
- Always check for bicycle riders particularly when turning at intersections
- Sometimes a bicycle can travel as fast or faster than a car, particularly in slow-moving traffic. Never underestimate their speed and don’t cut them off as bicycles have longer stopping distances at the same speed
- Check in your rear view and side mirrors to avoid opening your car door into the path of bicycle riders
- At times bicycle riders may need a full width lane to ride safely so slow down and allow the rider to travel away from the kerb
- Children on bikes can be unpredictable
- Bicycle riders are allowed to ride side by side
It is against the law for bicycle riders to ride on footpaths, unless they are:
- Under 12 years of age
- An adult 18 years or older supervising a child under 12 years old
- Under 18 years old and riding with an adult who is supervising for a child under 12 years old
- On a footpath that is for shared use by bicycle riders and pedestrians
- On a designated bicycle path
Bicycle riders safety
- Always wear correctly fitted approved helmets
- Always obey traffic lights and signs
- You must ride with traffic on the left side of the road
- A hand signal when turning right or merging right is required by law
- You do not need to signal for left turns, stopping or hook turns
- Give way to pedestrians and other vehicles when entering a road
- Give way to pedestrians crossing the road
- You must not be towed by another vehicle
- When visibility is poor, you must display a white light (steady or flashing) on the front of your bicycle and a red light (steady or flashing) to the rear. These must be visible for at least 200m. The bike must also have a red reflector visible for at least 50m to the rear
- Your bike must be fitted with at least one working brake and a functioning warning device such as a bell or horn
- You must use the bike lane where available
- Maintain control of your bicycle at all times. It is an offence to ride with both hands off the handlebars or feet off the pedals or to carry any load that prevents you from having control
- When using a footpath or shared pedestrian/bicycle path, keep to the left and give way to pedestrians
- The bicycle must not carry more people than it is designed to carry
- All passengers must sit on a seat designed for them
- Bicycle riders are not allowed to ride on a crossing unless there are bicycle crossing lights
- Allow ample room away from parked cars in case a car door is opened
- Do not ride between parked vehicles
Bicycle stopping areas - Some intersections have painted bicycle storage areas where you should stop at red lights. Only enter bicycle storage areas from a bicycle lane.
Hook turns by bicycle riders are allowed when turning right. A hook turn involves crossing straight through an intersection to the left lane of the direction you want to travel then giving way or waiting until you can safely join traffic in that direction.
Sharing the road with trucks and buses
Trucks and buses are usually substantially larger, longer, heavier and more powerful than standard vehicles.
Allow more room for heavy vehicles to stop - Heavy vehicles need a long distance to stop so don’t cut them off as they are maintaining a safe distance and may not be able to stop safely if you do. Cashes with heavy vehicles are more likely to cause serious injury or death. Heavy vehicles may not be able to see you or to stop if you try to overtake them when they are turning. Wait until they have completed their turn. Do not drive in the blind spot of heavy vehicles.
Allow more room for heavy vehicles and buses to turn as they sometimes take up more than one lane at corners or on roundabouts. Do not assume they can stay in their lane.
Sharing the road with horse riders
Watch out for ridden, driven or led horses and remember:
- Horses can be unpredictable, so slow down and give them space
- Never sound your horn, rev your engine or pass a horse at high speed
- Slow down or stop if a rider is having difficulty with a horse
Continue reading the Road Users’ Handbook Summary:
3. Road Safety
Check out the other resources available to help you pass the Driver Knowledge Test and get your learner licence (L plates):