After having fallen for three years in a row, the ACT road toll has risen into the double digits again for the first time since 2016, following an accident in Taylor earlier this month. This is as difficult to explain as it is tragic, given Canberrans have driven substantially less in 2021 because of the extended lockdown and the border closures.
It means that, when combined with the seven road deaths in the ACT in 2020, more Canberrans have died on the territory's roads in the past two years than from COVID-19. This is a sobering statistic, given road deaths are more easily preventable than coronavirus deaths, and in 2017 the road toll had fallen to five; half the number of deaths this year to date.
It is also, sad to say, not unlikely that this year's toll will increase further, given the approaching holiday season, and that travellers from the ACT are also at risk of being killed in other jurisdictions, given many will be travelling interstate to reunite with friends and family or just to have a holiday for the first time in many months.
And while it is always difficult to establish clear-cut examples of cause and effect, the fact that the spike in road deaths has occurred at a time when roadside breath testing by ACT Policing fell by 29 per cent in 2020-21 compared to 2019-20 may be more than just a coincidence.
That reduction was an unfortunate consequence of the Delta strain outbreak, which kept the city in lockdown for months and saw police deployed in large numbers to patrol duties on the border with NSW.
Much of the testing that was carried out was targeted at known hotspots, such as the vicinities of clubs and hotels. An alarmingly high rate of drink driving was detected.
Analysis by the NRMA, released as part of its Boost the Bus: RBT Every Driver report, found that 2.3 per cent of drivers tested in Canberra had returned a positive reading. That compares to about 0.5 per cent in NSW.
While, as the NRMA acknowledges, this does reflect the testing tactics adopted by ACT Policing as a result of reduced resources, the results appear to confirm anecdotal reports that many people have been drinking more heavily than would normally be the case during the pandemic and the associated lockdowns.
They also suggest that an alarming number of Canberrans have become increasingly blasé about drinking and driving, despite decades of random breath testing and hard-hitting road safety campaigns.
These individuals, who would certainly know better, are not only endangering themselves and their families, they are also putting every other road user at risk of death or serious injury.
With almost one in five road fatalities linked to alcohol, this behaviour is a huge contributor to an unnecessary and avoidable loss of life across the nation every year.
Every road death is an avoidable tragedy and, as a result of the 10 fatalities that have occurred in the ACT in the past year, many families are going to have a very sombre Christmas. There will be far too many empty chairs at the festive feast.
The NRMA's campaign, to have every driver tested at least once a year as a part of a highly visible random testing campaign, has significant merit. Being pulled over and asked to blow into the tube is a highly salutary reminder to all of us of the need to accept personal responsibility and to be mindful of the safety of others.
Canberra fell well short of that target last year, with just 39,034 of an estimated 340,000 licensed drivers being tested.
That's just not good enough, and unless this trend is reversed it appears likely ACT road deaths - and serious injuries - will continue to rise.
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