Mr COLLIER: My question without notice is to the Minister for Roads. What is the Government's response to community concerns about this year's road toll?
Mr SCULLY: I am sure that this year's road toll is of extreme concern to all members of this House. Last year's road toll was the lowest in 50 years. As of this morning, this year 466 people have lost their lives through a motor vehicle accident—56 more than at the same time last year. Today I announce on behalf of the Government a package of measures designed to deal with this worrying trend. The Roads and Traffic Authority [RTA] has informed me that the most significant part of that worrying trend is the speed-related fatality. The Government can do a number of things to address that worrying trend including investigating ways of reducing fatalities among young drivers; new penalties including longer suspensions, increased demerit points and trialling automatic court appearances for high-range offences; speed cameras; and extra funds to be spent on road safety, particularly along the Pacific Highway.
Honourable members would be aware that, tragically, nine young people died recently on Southern Highlands roads—six young men in one car and three in another. Young adult drivers and adolescent passengers aged about 14 or 15 piled into a car, at night, travelled at speed, and all were killed. The message was brought home to us all that we need to think about other necessary measures to make road travel safer for young drivers and their young passengers. I have asked the RTA to consult with police, the NRMA and young drivers to determine what additional safety measures need to be implemented. As members of Parliament we really need to consider what further steps we need to take to make road travel safer for young drivers and their passengers. I intend to treat that assessment most seriously.
On the subject of speeding, it is almost 20 years since random breath testing was introduced, and it has had outstanding success in reducing the number of alcohol-related driving deaths. Similarly, the compulsory wearing of seatbelts has been successful in reducing driving-related deaths. However, there are no more magic bullets. Those two measures had an unbelievable impact in dramatically reducing the number of people killed on our roads. About 20 years ago, approximately 1,400 people were killed on our roads each year, now that rate is between 520 and 600. That is still an enormous number, but unbelievably lower than 20 to 25 years ago. If there were magic bullets the Government would have applied them, but there is more that we can do. We can get the road toll down further and I intended to implement some measures to do so.
This year to date there have been 187 road deaths related to excessive speed, compared to 155 at the same time last year. One measure I propose to introduce was suggested recently by the NRMA, that is, drivers who exceed the speed limit by up to 15 kilometres per hour will have two demerit points applied to their licence, rather than one demerit point. I agree with that suggestion and it will be implemented by 1 December. Currently people who drive at between 31 to 45 kilometres per hour over the speed limit have their licence suspended for one month. I propose to increase that suspension to three months. Currently drivers who exceed the speed limit by 45 kilometres per hour, an almost feral level of speeding, have their licence suspended for three months. I propose to double that to a six-month suspension.
I am sending a strong message to the minority of motorists who have not yet got the message. Having a driver's licence is a privilege and if drivers do not comply with the road rules and behave in such a way as to make it more likely that they, their passengers or fellow citizens will be killed, and are caught doing that, they will lose their licence for a long time. Additionally, the northern police region, along with the RTA, will conduct a trial of automatic court appearances for speeding offences in excess of 45 kilometres per hour over the speed limit. That means that if one is in the northern police region and drives in excess of 45 kilometres an hour over the limit, and is caught, that person will automatically face a court and not be dealt with via an infringement notice.
In addition, anyone caught by a fixed digital speed camera to be driving at more than 45 kilometres an hour over the speed limit will automatically be sent to court and not be dealt with by an infringement notice. I have made a decision that anyone caught driving a car at 130 kilometres per hour, irrespective of the posted speed limit, will have his or her licence suspended for one month. These are important measures that are comprehensive and will go some way to getting the message through to motorists that they have to drive in accordance with the speed limit, they have to slow down. If they do not, their licence will be taken from them.
I refer to another road safety matter. Many members on both sides of this House, members of parents and citizens associations, school principals, teachers and parents have put to me that we need to do more to make the school environment safer. From time to time I have had discussions, correspondence and meetings with many members on both sides of this House in an endeavour to address these concerns. A little while ago I announced that I would put three digital speed cameras at 10 school sites on a rotating basis. I have reconsidered that and have decided that it is appropriate to install speed cameras at each of those 10 trial sites, rather than at three sites on rotation. Motorists will know where the speed cameras are located and that they will operate for 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
I advise members that the schools chosen for the trial of the speed cameras are St Catherine Labore at Gymea, St Patricks in Kogarah, Middle Harbour Public School in Mosman, Epping West Public School, Woy Woy Public School, Our Lady of the Rosary in Wyoming, Ourimbah Public School, Woy Woy South Public School, Fairy Meadow Public School, and the Illawarra Grammar School. Those sites have been selected in accordance with traffic volumes, high levels of pedestrian use and accident history. I expect all cameras to be installed by the beginning of, or during, term one next year. There will be a rigorous six-month assessment program. Whether the trial is to be extended to other schools, and in what manner, will depend on how well they work in operation and on the success of the assessment process.
Earlier I have indicated that flashing lights would be installed outside certain schools. The lights will be installed at Chatham Public School in Taree, Tomaree Public School in Salamander Bay, Holmwood Public School in Cowra, Holbrook Public School, St Patricks in Holbrook, Bredbo Public School, Helensburgh Public School, Mount Terry Public School in Albion Park, Edmund Rice College in Wollongong, Blaxland Public School, and Dundas Public School. The criteria used to determine which schools should or should not have flashing lights installed was based on a speed limit of at least 70 kilometres per hour, high pedestrian use, higher traffic volumes and poor sight distance for motorists. Each site will also be subject to continuous assessment.
Members on both sides of the House represent electorates in which the Pacific Highway is being upgraded. In January 1996 the Commonwealth and State governments committed $2.2 billion to upgrade the highway. An enormous proportion of that amount has already been expended and it has made a huge difference to the economy and travel times along the North Coast and has improved road safety, but not to a sufficient degree for the Government to be satisfied. I am pleased to announce an additional $4.5 million for road safety, specifically for the Pacific Highway on the North Coast.
I propose to increase the number of speed camera sites from 10 to 18 along the Pacific Highway by December; increase police patrols on the highway; construct 13 enforcement bays for police to conduct speed checks and random breath tests; and provide two new rest areas, one at Tabbimoble, just north of Maclean, and one at Kundabung, south of Kempsey. Additionally there will be black spot treatments, including arrow markings, audible line markings and improved road surfaces. I have asked the RTA to ensure that as many of those measures as possible be implemented prior to the Christmas holiday period. In conclusion, the current road toll is unacceptable; more people are being killed. I can understand that people would be satisfied if the road toll was reduced to 300 or 400, but we would all agree that no level of road toll is acceptable.
However, it will be pleasing if we can get the road toll below 500 or towards 400. It is very disappointing that many people are killed because of excessive speed. We need to do more to encourage motorists to drive within the speed limit. All the research shows, unsurprisingly, that motorists who drive within the speed limit are far more likely to drive safely and to negotiate our road network without killing themselves or their fellow citizens.
We intend to proceed with this package, but I do not suggest for a moment that it is the panacea to all the problems of the road network. I will continue to monitor the situation and I will be happy to hear from honourable members about any other measures that the Government should implement. This is a bipartisan issue about which honourable members on both sides of the House well know that I am willing to engage in dialogue. If any honourable members have additional measures that they believe the Government should consider, my door is open.
[Questions without notice interrupted.]