Damning country road death toll

I’M A country girl and always will be.

I grew up on a dairy farm and remember how we would just jump in the truck or the tractor and go from paddock to paddock without a seat-belt, or jump on a motorbike without a helmet.

We never gave it a second thought, it was just what you did in the country.

I remember this feeling of invincibility: ‘nothing will happen to me because it’s my road, I’ve driven it a thousand times before and I know it better than anyone else’.

Of course, it was a complete fiction back then, just as it is now.

People in country NSW make up only a third of our State’s population and yet we make up more than two-thirds of its road toll.

In fact if you live in the country you are four times more likely to be killed in a road crash than if you live in the city.

So far this year, 354 people have been killed in NSW with a staggering 244 of them dying on country roads.

There are very few degrees of separation in country communities, if any. For better or worse everyone knows everyone.

So when a member of a small community is suddenly ripped away the effects can ripple through it for years

You feel the difference when one of the 10 teachers in your child’s school doesn’t turn up on Monday or when the only butcher in town no longer opens his doors.

I know this pain, and the emotional hole it leaves in your heart. And even after many years it never quite goes away.

I’ve lost friends on my roads at home and there’s never a time that I don’t feel sad and a profound sense of loss when I drive past the spots where, on a day that would have felt like any other, friends and neighbours never made it home.

Whether it’s a local school teacher, a member of the local football team or the owner of the town pub, it is always someone’s daughter or son, someone’s father or mother, best friend or neighbour.

And with each funeral the foundations of these small communities are slowly chipped away.

If you ask most country people you’ll often hear the same argument: they know people are dying on their roads but believe it is the out-of-towners, the tourists from the big cities, unfamiliar with our roads and conditions.

But the reality is last year only 10 per cent of people involved in fatal crashes on country roads were from metro areas and just 12 per cent were from interstate or overseas.

This means that the vast majority of those lives lost in the country were locals, and many of them are dying close to home on roads they had no doubt driven countless times before.

And more often than not it’s the blokes who are paying the ultimate price with men last year making up nearly 80 per cent of all deaths on country roads.

This is not about judging country drivers, I am one myself, it’s about trying to save them.

And that must begin with some harsh truths. Across the board country drivers take more risks. And on country roads, with their higher speed limits, roadside hazards and single carriageways, the consequences of taking these risks are much more severe.

Last year just under a third of all road deaths in metro NSW involved someone driving too fast. In the country this figure was 47 per cent and claimed the lives of 118 people.

Tired drivers accounted for eight per cent of deaths in metro areas while in the country it was more than triple at 28 per cent.

It’s a similar story with one of our other big killers – drink driving. A staggering 85 percent of the deaths caused by someone who’d had too much to drink were in the country.

And when it comes to people not wearing seat-belts, country people continue to die in greater numbers. Last year around one in every five deaths in the country were as a result of someone not wearing this proven lifesaving device. In the metro areas it was around one-in-10.

It’s often said that you can’t hope to fix a problem unless you are first prepared to admit you have one.

It’s time we in the country face facts, and at least start the conversation by admitting to ourselves that indeed we do have a problem and that any solution must first begin with each and every one of us, each and every time we get behind the wheel.