FOR many Canberrans, the end of the working year begins this weekend. Sadly, for those in our emergency and related services, the real work is only just beginning.
As crowds pour down to the south coast or head interstate to visit family, the spectre of the national road toll again looms large.
Every Christmas our festive season is interrupted with news of tragedy on our roads - a petrol tanker that has run off the road and caused carnage, a tired driver who strays into the wrong lane or a family devastated by the actions of a drunk driver.
Despite a gradual long-term reduction in the number of deaths, this year's toll so far - 1186 - is ahead of where it was at the same time last year. But the numbers alone do not tell the full story. According to federal Transport Minister Anthony Albanese, the government has spent more than $28 billion on roads since 2007, doubling its expenditure since coming to power.
Technology has also made vehicles safer, better protecting drivers and passengers from injury and accidents.
Yet more people die. Some of the toll can be put down to the raw increase in vehicles on the road, but some of it must be attributed to the actions of drivers. Every day our courts are full of drivers caught over the limit. The holidays also prompt many to embark on long road trips without planning enough time for rest stops. And despite the repeated campaigns by police every Christmas, high visibility on highways and double demerit, many continue to take unnecessary risks.
Motoring groups argue more can be spent on our highways, making them safer. This is undoubtedly true, particularly on sections like the Kings Highway which has a terrible history of shattering lives and families.
Yet the inescapable conclusion is that if we, as a community, want to end this yearly heartbreak, we must take more responsibility for our actions on the roads.
Planning ahead during the festive season and assigning a designated driver before arriving is a smart move. Allowing sufficient travel time not only reduces stress but also removes the urge to speed. And planning to be off the roads entirely when they are at their peak, by travelling midweek or not at the start or end of school holidays, will make everyone's journey safer.
Christmas should be a time of family, celebration and relaxation. We can all do more to ensure we don't add to the annual tragedy on our streets.