Economic pressures could be behind a dramatic increase in the deaths of experienced male drivers on NSW roads in what the state’s leading road safety expert has called a “new dimension” to the problem.
Tradesmen working long hours and travelling long distances to squeeze more jobs into their working day are some of the factors being attributed to the spike in deaths for men aged between 30 and 50.
In the first seven months of this year, at least 30 men in the 30-50 age group died in speed-related accidents, more than double the number for the same period last year.
By comparison, speed was a factor in the deaths of just two women aged between 30 and 50 this year.
According to Bernard Carlon, executive director of the NSW Centre for Road Safety, the figures represent a departure from the common perception of young men, often P-Platers, as the largest contingent in road fatalities.
“There’s an older male cohort which is clearly another issue now. That’s a new dimension to the problem.”
While occupation data is not collected alongside fatality statistics, Mr Carlon pointed to other elements such as a 75 per cent increase in fatigue-related crashes this year and a rise in fatalities involving light truck drivers from five to 23 deaths as supporting a theory that blue-collar workers were dying in greater numbers.
“The issue from our point of view is that those vehicles are not as safe. Light fleet vehicles are safer.”
Mr Carlon pointed to economic pressures as “potentially a factor” behind common anecdotal evidence of tradesmen working over 12-hour days, which could see them average as much as 100km each day.
“When you’re awake for 17 hours, it’s the equivalent of 0.05 [blood-alcohol content] in terms of your cognitive ability,” he said.
Another key issue was a lack of strong regulation around light commercial drivers, compared with truck drivers, he said.
“When you think about it, they are operating as professional drivers as well as professional tradespeople. We then need to rely on corporates and governments and businesses to have a really strong safety culture in the workplace.”
In just three days last weekend, seven people lost their lives on NSW roads, leaving police and road safety campaigners exasperated as the death toll dramatically outstripped last year’s count.
The current road toll stands at 256 deaths, an increase of 39 fatalities compared with the same time last year.
While older drivers died in greater numbers, young drivers continued to be over-represented, with at least 21 young people dying in crashes involving P-platers this year.
The figures prompted the NSW government to announce a crackdown on inexperienced drivers last month.
Included among a raft of new measures, all P-platers will be banned from using their mobile phones while driving from December, including to access GPS map directions.
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