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03 Dec 2015

The AMA is making an important contribution to the ongoing national campaign to reduce road fatalities and road trauma.

Speeding, fatigue and risk-taking behaviours continue to contribute to too many lives lost and harmed on Australian roads.

As a neurosurgeon, AMA President Professor Brian Owler, frequently witnesses the tragic consequences of speeding and has a personal commitment to improving road safety.

Professor Owler has been the face of NSW’s Don't Rush campaign since 2010. This prominent advertising campaign has contributed to a reduction in speed and fatigue-related injury and death in that state.

The Case for Action

According to the research, since record-keeping on the road toll began in 1925, there have been more than 185,000 deaths on Australia’s roads. 

We have managed to substantially reduce road trauma, especially in the past few decades with the introduction of preventive measures such as random breath tests, seat belts, and improved automobile technology. And yet, on average, three people die on Australia's roads every day and 90 are seriously injured - two permanently.  That represents about 33,900 adults and children every year. 

The cost of road trauma to the Australian community is enormous - conservatively estimated at $27 billion per annum - or $70 million a day.

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is a brain injury that is the result of a traumatic event, such as a car accident or a blow to the head.  According to Brain Injury Australia, over 22,000 Australians were hospitalised as a result of a traumatic brain injury in 2004-2005.  Most of those Traumatic Brain Injuries - over two in every five - were caused by a fall, but nearly one in three was due to a motor vehicle accident.  The average lifetime cost of new cases of TBI in Australia is estimated to be $2.5 million (moderate TBI) to $4.8 million (severe TBI).

The recently formed Australian Trauma Registry (ATR) provides research and reporting on the work of designated trauma centres.  Their report covers the work in saving injured peoples’ lives by treating their injuries, and restoring their independence and productivity.  Their latest report found that blunt trauma injury, such as those caused by motor vehicle accidents, falls and being forcefully struck, was the predominant injury type. According to the ATR, “transport was the major mechanism of injury”.

The total number of major trauma cases as a result of road transport over the three years from 2010 to 2012 was 7,315, or 36 per cent of major trauma cases.  Of these, there were 554 fatalities, which is 27 per cent of major trauma fatalities.  Vehicle occupants comprised over half - 56 per cent - of fatalities among road transport-related deaths, followed by pedestrians, motorcyclists and pedal cyclists (24 per cent, 19 per cent and 2 per cent of road transport related deaths, respectively).  Pedestrians accounted for 24 per cent of those who died, even though they accounted for only a tenth of all road traffic related trauma cases.

Anyone who has witnessed the consequences of road trauma understands that it is quick and unforgiving.  Seeing far too many injuries and deaths is why the AMA is committed to improving the way we drive, the cars we drive, and the roads we drive on.  

Fitness to Drive

Doctors play an important role in assessing whether patients are fit to drive. Illness and disease may impair someone’s ability to drive temporarily, or permanently.

The joint Austroads and National Transport Commission publication Assessing Fitness to Drive: medical standards for licensing and clinical management guidelines (1 October 2016) is available to download now, and is effective from 1 October 2016.  This publication is a resource for medical practitioners to support the assessment of fitness to drive.

The standards contained have been endorsed by: 

  • Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists
  • Cardiac Society of Australia and New Zealand
  • Occupational Therapy Australia
  • Australasian Sleep Association
  • Optometrists Association of Australia
  • Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists
  • Audiological Society of Australia

As the report notes, health professionals should always maintain awareness of any changes in health care and health technology that may affect their assessment of drivers.  

Relevant Resources

  • Whiplash Injury Management Guidelines, published by the NSW Motor Accidents Authority in December 2014, provides information to assist health professionals and insurers in delivering care to adults with a whiplash injury in the first 12 weeks after a motor vehicle crash.

AMA Media


Published: 03 Dec 2015