'Collective Brain Fade': What's Behind Victoria's Staggeringly High Road Toll?
Nearly one person has died per day on Victorian roads this year.
The state boasted its lowest road toll in more than three decades in 2018, but the first five months of 2019 -- during which 114 people have so far died-- are a reminder there's no room for complacency.
At this point last year, the toll stood at 76.
It appears Victorians are suffering a "collective brain fade", Assistant Commissioner Stephen Leane told 3AW on Wednesday.
The number of deaths has authorities extremely concerned, prompting an emergency summit of experts -- including representatives from Victoria Police, Road Trauma Support Services Victoria, and the Transport Accident Commission -- due to be held on May 31st.
The news comes in the middle of International Road Safety week, during which safety authorities come together to shine a light on road trauma.
There's no single reason why Victoria's roads have had such a horrific five months, lead director of road safety at TAC Samantha Cockfield said, but there are stand-out trends beginning to emerge.
"One of the major issues coming through is non-seatbelt use," Cockfield told 10 daily.
This year has already surpassed 2018's number of lives lost when not wearing a seatbelt -- a staggering 19 drivers and passengers have died while unrestrained, compared with 18 over the entire course of last year.
"I think this is incredibly upsetting and concerning that 50 years after we introduced mandatory seat belt use, where I think that everybody accepts that they are life-saving devices, that we still have people just making a choice 'Oh, it'll be okay on this trip'," Cockfield said.
Cockfield said the risky choice can be the result of many factors, from confidence in your own driving ability or even the perception it's safe to forgo buckling up on a short trip.
A closer look at the statistics also raises another concern.
"I think there's a men's health issue here," Victoria's Roads Minister Jaala Pulford told 10 daily.
"About why there are a group of people, overwhelmingly men, who are getting around without their seatbelts on."
In 2018, all seatbelt-related deaths recorded were men, most of which were behind the wheel. This year, the trend is no different.
"It's around three quarters who lose their lives on our roads are men," Pulford said.
"Perhaps there's a small group in the community that we need to find a new way to talk to them, about the consequences to them and their families and their friends of this kind of behaviour."
As well as seatbelt use, rural Victoria is a particular cause for concern when it comes to this year's road trauma.
"We're really seeing a big increase of deaths on high-speed country roads," Cockfield said.
Regional Victoria is over-represented in the road toll, with deaths in rural areas up by 85 percent compared with last year.
Accidents tend to happen on roads running from town to town, as opposed to highways and freeways.
"So they're narrow, they're often 100km/h with gravel shoulders. If something unexpected happens, if we make a slight error under those conditions, there's not much to protect us," Cockfield said.
The state's sharp increase in road fatalities is a complex issue with several compounding factors. From a buoyant economy -- which is seeing higher numbers of drivers on the road -- and even a start to the year with incredibly mild weather, there are underlying issues not represented by the statistics.
But as for how to deal with it moving forward, the messages are familiar.
"As Victorians we're very well educated road users and we do know the key issues," Cockfield said.
"Simply putting on a seatbelt, it is one of the most basic things we can do."
Seemingly non-risky decisions need to be scrutinised too, whether it be turning to check on a crying baby or staring at a kangaroo on the side of the road.
"Our plea to people on our roads, people in cars as drivers, as passengers, on bikes on motorbikes, people crossing the street -- just concentrate on what you're doing," Pulford said.
"We don't accept that people dying is a reasonable consequence for people getting around the place."