Getting one’s head around the grim statistic of 4.5 deaths for every 100,000 people – which is a far worse road safety record than most European and all Scandinavian countries – is difficult, but it is the detail behind the numbers that truly beggars belief.
Police figures reveal the so-called “fatal five” – speeding, drink or drug driving, distracted driving, fatigue and driving without a seatbelt – remain major contributors to Australia’s hefty toll. While all are potentially deadly driving sins, the decision of drivers and passengers not to buckle up is completely alien to me.
Long before I got near a set of L-plates or qualified driving instructor in my home city of Liverpool, it was embedded in my psyche – and those of all my friends – that seatbelts were lifesavers and not contemplating wearing them was simple idiocy.
This steadfast mindset was undoubtedly, in part, a product of my parents. As a passenger, trips to football training, the shops or cinema simply didn’t begin until I was strapped in – pulling a seatbelt across my chest was as instinctive as lacing up a pair of shoes.
The reasons for doing so were drilled home on multiple fronts, including at school and while watching TV. While I am not old enough to have seen them premiere, the series of British public information films encouraging people to “clunk click every trip” echoed through my childhood.
The slogan used, originally by actor and television presenter Shaw Taylor, to describe the act of closing a car door and fastening a seatbelt was a stroke of marketing genius on behalf of the government. So too was the inclusion of graphic sequences of drivers being thrown through windscreens – the films were haunting and memorable.
They provided an education that has impacted on generations. Having been made crystal clear of the potential consequences of not wearing a seatbelt, my parents impressed on me that strapping in was a non-negotiable aspect of being in a vehicle, as – in turn – I have with my own children.
Which is why I am bewildered that an act that comes as second nature to most British motorists remains a prominent killer on the roads of the country that has been my family’s home for the past five years.
In Western Australia alone, 20 of the 174 people killed while driving in 2022 died because they weren’t wearing a seatbelt.
Such deaths are senseless and so too are the life-changing injuries to those “lucky” enough to survive a crash when not securely fastened to their seat. In my capacity as commercial director at Accident Claims Lawyers, I’ve read far too many case notes of lives left in ruin to know that fatalities are only half the picture of a very serious problem. I’d rather my company didn’t have to take such calls but for that to happen cultural and generational change is required.
At the turn of the year, Western Australia’s road safety commissioner, Adrian Warner, suggested a fundamental mindset shift was necessary and I couldn’t agree more – not wearing a seatbelt needs to become a social stigma.
Drumming a “clunk click every trip”-attitude into every Australians’ DNA should not be impossible and I am delighted the Government is now taking positive action to deliver a similar driving education to my own.
Its new ‘no one plans a crash’ campaign, which uses everyday scenarios to communicate that we all have a part to play in making every journey a safe one, is attempting to tackle the problem head on and is visible – and audible – across most media channels.
While seatbelt use is not highlighted directly, the message is clear: accidents are avoidable if people make better ‘one-off’ choices and I implore any road users reading this to take note and begin setting a good example to future generations with immediate effect.
Bad habits are often learned behaviours and preserving your own life to in turn help protect others should not be a significant ask of a role model. The alternative, continued needless deaths, is nonsensical.