THE TRAGIC death of 19- year-old Jake Collins at Bexhill on Wednesday brings the number of fatalities in the region to five since January 1.
The cause of the deaths appear to be many and varied, but the fact that we have such a high proportion of the state's road fatalities raises concerns and questions about road conditions and driver education, particularly to driving on wet roads.
Inspector Matt Keogh from Richmond Local Area Command said the weather was likely to be a contributing factor in the deaths of both Mr Collins and 20 year-old Taylor Chase, who lost control of her car in heavy rain on Ross Lane, Lennox Head on January 23.
"I would encourage people to drive to the road conditions and to adapt to the weather conditions," Insp Keogh said.
Peter Owen, 49 of Casino, died in his car after a suspected heart attack on January 18 and police are still awaiting the results of toxicology and blood and alcohol reports in relation to another single car accident at Yorklea on January 26.
Gavin Panaino, 36 of Murwillumbah, crashed his Holden Commodore into a tree on Main Arm Road on January 18, but as there were no witnesses, police are unable identify a cause of the accident.
NRMA president Wendy Machin said 2014 has been a horror start on New South Wales roads with 43 deaths. That's almost double what it was at the same time last year - 22.
"It has been a concerning start to the new year but as to why; I think that mystifies a lot of people," she said.
"Police have been very concerned about the high number of P-Plate offences ... but on the good side there has been a lot of police on the road during the holiday period."
She said there is good evidence to link a higher police presence to a drop in road accidents.
LADS to help before it's too late
IT'S BEEN over seven years since Rob Wells lost his son Bryce in an horrific accident that claimed four young lives on Broken Head Road.
In 2007 Mr Wells and the parents of the other boys formed Southern Cross LADS (Learn About Driving Skills) and they are in the process of getting planning approval to build a driver education centre at Gundurimba.
Mr Wells said they hope to lodge the construction certificate application with Lismore Council soon and will then launch in earnest the fundraising campaign to make it happen.
"The idea of it is to educate people about these issues; thinking ahead, planning ahead, looking at road situations and making people more aware.
"It's not until they (young people) get out and start making decisions for themselves that it's too late. We need to educate them to give them the skills they need to be safe drivers and safe decision makers.
"If they get it wrong they can cause a lot of damage to themselves and to other road users."
Why crashes happen
ACCORDING to the Department of Roads and Maritime Services, of the 28 road fatalities in the Northern Rivers last year, speed was a factor in 50%, fatigue in 32% and alcohol in 9%.
- Speed - The risk of a casualty crash approximately doubles with each 5kmh increase on a 60kmh speed-limited road, or with each 10kmh increase on 110kmh roads. A reduction of 5kmh in average travel speed would reduce rural casualty crashes by about 30% and urban crashes by about 25%.
- Fatigue - Driver fatigue is particularly dangerous because one of the symptoms is a decreased ability to judge your own level of tiredness. Fatigue is more likely to be a factor in crashes in rural areas as they can involve long trips and extensive periods of continuous driving.
- Alcohol - Drinking alcohol affects driving skills and increases the likelihood of risk-taking behaviour. You don't have to be drunk to be affected by alcohol. You might feel normal, but no one drives as well after drinking alcohol and studies show that a driver's risk of being involved in a casualty crash doubles for every increase of 0.05 above zero BAC.
OPINION: Road safety has improved but more training would help
ROAD safety in Australia has improved drastically over the past few decades.
Back in 1970 a total 3798 people were killed on Australian roads, which would have worked out at more than 25 deaths per 100,000 people across the nation.
By comparison, last year a total 1193 people died on Australian roads, or 5.16 people per 100,000.
Obviously, there have been significant improvements in road safety on the Northern Rivers as well, but this region remains far more dangerous to drive in than the above figures suggest.
At a rough estimate, there were something like 27 deaths on Northern Rivers roads last year. Taken across the 277,000-strong population between the Clarence Valley and the border, that translates as a death rate of 9.7 people per 100,000 Northern Rivers residents - far above the national averages.
Our winding country roads play a role in this, so too does the lack of public transport. Neither of those issues offer themselves to easy solutions, leaving driver training as the third area where the Northern Rivers can improve safety.
This is being addressed through the efforts of groups such as Southern Cross LADS, which is setting up an advanced driver training centre.
PCYC Lismore and Grafton have also been funded to run a safer drivers course for L-platers. This course is expected to reach about 40 centres in NSW and has the backing of Roads and Maritime Service.
Perhaps such training is something that would benefit all Northern Rivers drivers.
- Alex Easton
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