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Opinion: Road safety experts blinded by speed

By Stephen Corby, 22 May 2017 Opinion

Opinion: Road safety experts blinded by speed

FOLLOWING UP on our Road Safety investigation, columnist Corby discovers some experts unable to talk about anything other than speed

PEOPLE say that you get more rigidly opinionated as you get older, thus becoming more of a cantankerous prick, but I don’t think it’s necessarily true, it’s just that I’m now absolutely sure I’m right about them.

First published in the May 2017 issue of Wheels Magazine, Australia’s most experienced and most trusted car magazine since 1953.

That's because I’ve been around long enough to see the same kinds of inanity and insanity being repeated. For example, I could be more shocked by Trump voters, because I remember Dubya (twice), and Ronald Ravin’ Senility before that.

I’ve always been a fan of Einstein’s theory of insanity, which he defined as doing the same thing over and expecting a different result.

Insanity, then, is the only way to define Australia’s singular approach to the road toll, which has focused on speed since back when I got my licence. I should be able to accept that the rest of the world doesn’t believe that Speed is our mortal enemy, and that I’m just lucky to be able to live in this fine country and drive on massive, four-lane divided roads in Melbourne at exactly 80km/h, behind everyone else doing the same.

And yet this month, as I interviewed a slew of seemingly intelligent people like professors and police officers, and some politicians as well, I just couldn’t keep my shit together.

As a journalist researching a story it’s vital not to inject any emotion, particularly into interviews, because it is my job, theoretically, to collate the arguments on both sides and let the reader decide.

And yet several times I found myself asking questions in what could only be called a berating tone, because I just couldn’t get past the stunning self-certainty, and apparent idiocy, of some of the people I spoke to.

The TAC, the police, the Traffic Minister, the road-safety academic; they all believe, with quasi-religious fervour, that if they just continue to book everyone who even creeps over the limit, perhaps at an even more financially rapacious rate than we do now, we’ll eventually all slow down, accede to lower speed limits and no one will die, ever (which is what the bucket of deeply delusional diarrhoea they like to call Towards Zero is promising).

Present them with the fact that the road toll went up last year, despite their efforts, and they seem to enter a Trumpian trance of denial.

I guess I should have known I would clash with a guy whose job title is Road Safety Camera Commissioner, but John Voyage damn near pushed me over the edge with his absolute inability to understand why anyone would think hiding speed cameras was anything but a brilliant idea being carried out for our own good.

“I can’t stand it when someone comes along and says ‘Oh, speeding isn’t the problem, that’s bullshit’ and for some reason a fool like that is given credence in the media,” he ranted.

“And people watch shows like Top Gear, which has no safety message but has a message of what fun it is driving fast… A car is a utilitarian device, not this fun, pleasure thing they’re advertised as.”

To say we are at polar opposites would be a criminal understatement, and I just had to ask, if Speed really was a fast-track to Death, then what are all those Germans doing thumbing their noses at you by being alive, and dying on the roads in smaller numbers than we do?

Silence. Splutter. Their roads must be better than ours (actually, they manage far higher speeds on highways with just two lanes). Not logical. Can’t make comparisons. 

No reasoned argument or rebuttal, just an unshakeable belief, perhaps a belief that Germany doesn’t exist. It’s certainly not the kind of place he’d want to visit, with all its compulsory driver training and stricter licencing conditions.

You can read the Wheels Investigation report on the future of road safety in this country, and be alarmed, but when you do, I want you to appreciate the suffering it caused.

Back to interviewing cars for me.