Australian road deaths rise for second year, reaching almost 1,300 in 2016

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Two successive rises in the number of annual road deaths have bucked a long-term downward trend since 1970, when 3,798 people died

Road toll
In New South Wales 384 people were killed, 291 in Victoria, 250 in Queensland, 193 in Western Australia, 87 in South Australia, 38 in Tasmania, and 10 in the ACT. Photograph: Raoul Wegat/AAP

More than 1,290 people died on Australian roads in 2016, confirming the nation has experienced its second spike in road deaths in as many years.

Most states and territories have now released their final road toll figures for last year.

In New South Wales 384 people were killed, 291 died in Victoria, 250 in Queensland, 193 in Western Australia, 87 in South Australia, 38 in Tasmania and 10 in the ACT.

The Northern Territory’s road toll appeared to stand at 45, although the territory’s police could not be contacted for confirmation on Monday.

That would give a preliminary road toll of at least 1,298, up from 1,209 last year, and the record low of 1,153 in 2014.

The successive rises in the road toll have bucked an otherwise long-term downward trend, which has seen the road toll reduce by huge numbers since 1970, when 3,798 people died.

Graph showing long-term trend in road toll.

The infrastructure and transport minister, Darren Chester, described the 2016 road toll as a tragedy of national proportions on Sunday.

He suggested that parents should be spending a bit more on helping their teenage children buy a newer car.

The remarks drew criticism from Labor, but Chester defended them again on 2UE radio on Monday.

“Now, we can’t just keep on doing the same thing and thinking that we are going to get a better result, and I think emphasising the need to purchase a safer car if you can afford it, the safest car you can afford to buy, is an important part of this whole discussion, along with making sure governments don’t shirk their responsibility,” Chester said.

Chester also suggested that infrastructure investment should be directed more towards road safety.

“We already have a road black-spots program, we have got a roads to recovery program with local councils, and we have got a $50bn infrastructure spend under the current federal government,” he said.

“So there’s a lot of things going on but we need to pull them all together and then accept we have responsibility as drivers. It’s about safer drivers in safer cars on safer roads. It’s a combination of factors. We can do better than we are doing at the moment.”

Western Australia recorded one of the worst results, up from 161 the previous year and the state’s worst for eight years.

The RAC’s general manager of corporate affairs in WA, Will Golsby, said the 2016 figure was 16 more than the five-year average and higher than the national average.

“Every life lost on WA roads is one too many and each has a lasting ripple effect in the community,” Golsby said on Monday. “A preliminary count shows that 33 more people were killed on West Australian roads in 2016 than the year prior.”

Golsby said the increase was largely attributable to more deaths on regional roads and motorcyclist fatalities.

Two more people died in Perth on New Year’s Day.

The latest results do nothing to help Australian governments reach their shared goal of a 30% reduction in road deaths between 2011 and 2020.

Chester and his state and territory counterparts met late last year to discuss the rising road toll, agreeing it was unacceptable and committing to a greater emphasis on safety in infrastructure investment.

The ministerial council also agreed to increase drug-driving testing, and strengthen public awareness campaigns on distracted driving.

South Australia managed to improve its road toll in 2016, recording its best result on record. The 87 deaths on its roads were 15 fewer than 2015, and below the previous record of 94 in 2012. The road safety minister, Peter Malinauskas, said it still meant too many people were dying on the roads.

“Road crashes have a devastating impact on families. The pain and emotional impact on victims and their loved ones, particularly at this time of year, is immeasurable,” Malinauskas said.

“As a community, let’s do what we can to ensure that 2017 is another record low for fatalities on our roads,” he said.

The national holiday road toll, starting on 23 December, stood at 33 by Monday afternoon.

Eight people had died in NSW, nine in Victoria, six in Queensland, five in Western Australia, four in South Australia, one in the Northern Territory and none in the ACT or Tasmania.