Following world leading initiatives with seatbelts, child restraints, RBT etc by the end of the millennium Australia had become as successful as Sweden in reducing the road toll.
With their sparsely settled country, long country roads and wildlife crashes, there were many similarities, yet, both Australia and Sweden had achieved a death rate that was the lowest in the world.
Sweden wanted to go further. Sweden had many roads like the Heathcote Road, with a tragic rate of head on crashes. Like here, Sweden had future plans to widen similar roads, separate the opposing carriageways, re-align curves etc when they could find the money.
One day in 1997 the Head of Swedish road safety (Claes Tingvall) proposed to the road builders that they should trial the installation of the much cheaper option of wire rope median barriers on one of their more notorious roads.
At the time some drivers were angry that their freedom to overtake was being removed. Some suggested that the barriers would be a hazard, and that people would be crushed to death as vehicles piled into the wire barrier.
The establishment-orientated (Swedish) National Society for Road Safety described the trial as ‘‘horrendous’’. The local media asked what would happen when the ‘‘bloodbath’’ ensued following the installation of the wire rope median barrier.
Such was the controversy, no Minister or local official turned up for the subsequent formal opening of the modified roadway. Claes Tingvall had to cut the ribbon himself.
There followed a nervous wait.
Then one day a cake turned up at the Swedish Road Safety Administration headquarters. The note with the cake said, ‘‘I would be dead without you’’.
The new central median wire rope barrier eventually resulted in a 90 per cent reduction in head on crashes.
All of a sudden, the bureaucrats and the media jumped on the bandwagon to savour the success.
Some 20 years later, Swedish initiatives like this, and the implementation of many other known strategies, have resulted in Sweden leaving Australia way behind in road safety.
In 20 years Sweden has gone from equity with Australia to a 40 per cent lower fatality rate.
Michael Griffiths, Caringbah