Fatality rate increases on NSW country roads

The increasing number of deaths on NSW country roads is having an enormous impact on local communities.
The increasing number of deaths on NSW country roads is having an enormous impact on local communities.

This article is sponsored by the NSW Government.

COUNTRY drivers are dying on our roads at four times the rate of city people. 

And while many country people think road trauma will never happen to them, the sad reality is that it just might.

People all over the state are rushed to emergency rooms every day following road crashes, but Port Macquarie Base Hospital director of trauma Digby Hone says crash victims never imagine tragedy will strike them.

“I’m sure there’s no one that gets up in the morning thinking they're going to meet me during the day, so it’s really sad when I meet people who've made a poor decision and have ended up with a devastating injury," Dr Hone said.

The director of trauma at Port Macquarie Base Hospital, Dr Digby Hone often sees patients in the emergency room who have been impacted by country road crashes.

The director of trauma at Port Macquarie Base Hospital, Dr Digby Hone often sees patients in the emergency room who have been impacted by country road crashes.

THE REALITY

Research shows that country people think road crashes happen to other people, not them, and they think they are safer on the roads because they are familiar with the roads. 

But the reality tells another story. 

Despite people in country NSW only making up one-third of the NSW population, two-thirds of all fatalities occur on country roads. 

And alarmingly, the vast majority of fatal crashes on country roads involved local drivers crashing close to home.

Statistics show that residents of country NSW are most at risk of a crash. Source: NSW Centre for Road Safety, Transport for NSW

Statistics show that residents of country NSW are most at risk of a crash. Source: NSW Centre for Road Safety, Transport for NSW

Being familiar with country roads, and driving on them for many years, does not prevent local people dying on those roads, especially when they take risks such as driving too fast, drink driving, not wearing a seatbelt or driving tired.

Dr Hone said he sees people from all walks of life arrive in the emergency department and medical staff often witness people trying to come to terms with something they never expected to happen to them.

“You can see the disbelief as they’re trying to think back through – how did that happen,” Dr Hone said.

“People of all ages, all races and all levels of the socio-economic spectrum are affected – there is no discrimination.” 

However, it is older men aged 30-59 years who account for the majority of road fatalities in country areas. Road trauma survivors will ask if their injuries are life threatening, if they'll be paralysed, if their lives will be the same.

“People didn’t think that what they were doing on the road was actually going to have any impact on them or anyone else’s life,” Dr Hone said.

COMPLACENCY

New data has also shown that while country drivers will admit to unsafe behaviours there’s a strong belief that they’re safer on the roads than ‘tourists’ or ‘city people’. 

Country drivers rate their own driving abilities as better than others, but again reality tells us that this isn’t the case.

Dr Hone said drivers make a conscious decision to take risks on the road.

“Something goes wrong and suddenly they’ve dramatically altered the course of their life and the course of many lives around them,” Dr Hone said.

There is a deep level of complacency that allows drivers to justify taking risks on the road.

Country drivers don’t believe it’s their driving behaviour and choices that are impacting the outcomes.

There is belief that speeding ‘just 10 kilometres’ over the limit won't have consequences or choosing not to take breaks when they're tired because they just want to get home.

Others will have one too many drinks and still think they’re ok to drive or they will illegally use a mobile phone because they know the roads like the back of their hand.

Excuses like these help drivers justify taking risks, but what they may not realise is that these excuses are killing local people – their mates, their family and them.

Dr Hone reflects on patient's reactions when they’re wheeled into the hospital and he finds they’re often worried about other people in the car.

"One of the most difficult things is telling people, particularly the one driving the car that passengers have died as a result of the crash." 

IMPACT FOR LIFE

Dr Hone is a father of five and urges people to think about their families when making decisions on the road. 

He said a driver’s decision to speed, drink and drive, not wear a seatbelt or drive tired could leave a family without a father, mother or a child.

“I’ve got five kids myself and the thought of losing one of my own in a car crash is just something I never want to deal with – to explain that to parents is just devastating.

"I feel incredibly helpless and sorry for those parents who have to deal with that.

“It's the most deeply impacting thing that could ever happen to you as a parent."

Dr Hone implores people to think about the knock-on effect their driving behaviour can have on others.

“It takes a massive toll on the people who look after car crash victims every day.”

"It’s not like you can just put your stethoscope down at the end of the day and walk out – there's a significant ongoing effect trying to come to grips with some of the patients that have deeply impacted you,” Dr Hone said.

IT COULD BE YOU

With such harrowing experiences, Dr Hone knows all too well that "it could be you" because he sees people holding onto their life – the people who thought it would never happen to them, and it did.

He recalls all the people who die because they were speeding, who become paraplegics because they fell asleep at the wheel and the people who live in unimaginable pain for the rest of their lives because of the injuries they sustained from not wearing a seatbelt.

It's these bewildering moments of complacency and careless decisions on country roads that impact not only the driver’s life but their family and friends for the rest of their lives.

This article is sponsored by the NSW Government.