Ku-ring-gai Road Safety

Photo of autonomous bus
08 August 2018

Mr ALISTER HENSKENS (Ku-ring-gai) (17:37:45):There are many reasons why I am very privileged and proud to be the member for Ku-ring-gai. Every Ku-ring-gai resident values highly the abundance of trees and open spaces and realises that they should never be taken for granted. I have spoken previously in this place about the special quality of the people who live in the Ku-ring-gai electorate, including those who work in its magnificent schools. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, based on four key criteria, including education and occupation, income and assets, as well as access to social resources, Ku-ring-gai has been identified as the "most advantaged" area in Australia. Not only that but the health of Ku-ring-gai residents annually rates among the best in the country and it is invariably among the safest, low-crime communities in New South Wales.

We can never be complacent as a community about all of those measures in which Ku-ring-gai leads our nation. In one other important respect Ku-ring-gai ranks equally with all other electorates. I am talking about the incidence of motor vehicle accidents. In that regard, there is an level of concern equivalent to that of all other electorates for road safety. Road accidents can and do happen to anyone, anywhere, at any time. The latest data show that 42.5 per cent of fatal crashes in New South Wales in the past 12 months involved excessive speed. This is despite the fact that the then Minister for Roads launched the advertising campaign Towards Zero in May 2016 to highlight the human element of the road toll to help reduce the number of crashes and facilities.

The New South Wales Government has been active in funding road upgrade projects, including a $391.6 million productivity package with the Federal Government for the M1, and it has continually promoted road safety, including the introduction of stiffer penalties for those who break the rules. The Government has also more than doubled the Roads budget since 2011 to improve critical infrastructure across the State's road network. In Ku-ring-gai, the Roads and Maritime Services [RMS] is doing many excellent things. The RMS has extended clearways between Wahroonga and Pymble, including on Saturdays to help families travel to weekend sport, it is about to introduce new traffic light technology to maximise the movement of traffic and it has also just commenced implementing a $30 million program to eliminate bottlenecks called "pinch points" on the Pacific Highway between Pymble and Wahroonga where the highway shifts from three to two lanes and back again.

The $30 million Pinch Point Program aims to reduce congestion on one of Sydney's busiest thoroughfares. It also has the objective of making the road safer by reducing the need for drivers to change lanes and of decreasing the level of risk-taking behaviour that the frustration of congestion can cause. The Government has set maximum speed limits for heavy vehicles, invested proactively in heavy vehicle infrastructure, such as vehicle monitoring systems, and has introduced the Heavy Vehicle Register, which ensures that all heavy vehicles involved in incidents that are structurally unsafe are not re-registered and remain off the road. New South Wales now has the most comprehensive heavy vehicle safety and compliance system in the country.

Despite the extensive efforts of both the Government and the police to change behaviour, speeding is still killing people, motorists are still flouting the law and drivers are making bad choices on the road. What can be done? Perhaps the ultimate answer is to reduce, or even eliminate, the human element to driving. I am proud to be part of a progressive government that wants to use technology to improve people's everyday lives. On 8 August 2017, as part of the Government's Future Transport Strategy, the New South Wales Parliament passed the Transport Legislation Amendment (Automated Vehicle Trials and Innovation) Bill 2017. That legislation permits applications to trial highly or fully automated vehicles for a specified period of time. The goal is to have fully connected and automated vehicles—that is, self-driving cars that do not require any human monitoring—readily available and on the road as soon as possible.

Pursuant to the legislation, a trial of autonomous minibuses is taking place at Sydney Olympic Park and the Government will be trialling automated vehicles across the Lane Cove Tunnel, the Hills M2 Motorway, the Westlink M7, the M5, the Eastern Distributor, the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Harbour Tunnel. Automated vehicle technology is advancing quickly and car manufacturers Audi and Ford are planning to launch their first self-driving vehicles in 2020 and 2021 respectively. Their imminent arrival raises many issues, including how decision-making for crash avoidance will be prioritised; data ownership and security; civil and/or criminal liability; and insurance, including how the reallocation of risk will be made.

These issues will take some time to resolve but they do seem easier to address than the growing road toll. As they would effectively eliminate speeding and reckless, drunk‑ and drug‑driving, automated vehicles surely provide an excellent opportunity to lower the number of fatalities and injuries suffered by the occupants of motor vehicles. I look forward to the day when I can say that no road fatalities occurred in Ku-ring-gai and that no resident of Ku-ring-gai died in a motor vehicle accident. We could not be more "advantaged" than that.