Deaths among 18 to 20-year-olds fell from 35 to 21 in the year to June 30 (and were almost halved in the latest six-month period), with road safety experts crediting tougher licensing measures for young drivers.
The good news comes as Victoria looks to be on track to record a stunning calendar year decline in the road toll.
Julian Lyngcoln, VicRoads’ director of road safety strategy, said the rollout of the Graduated Licensing System, which extended the probationary licence period by a year and introduced green P-plates, “is seeing reductions in the young driver toll.”
A VicRoads evaluation of the new measures last year showed a one-third reduction in the involvement of probationary drivers (18-20 years) in serious casualty crashes in their first year of licensed driving.
Cutting the toll (2012-13)
► 14 fewer deaths among 18-20 year-olds
► 7 fewer deaths (16-17 year-olds)
► 2013 toll tracking at 26 fewer deaths
Accidents involving probationary drivers with two or more passengers had more than halved.
Overall, there were 13 fewer road deaths in Victoria in 2012-2013.
But the improvement has been starkest in the first six months of this year, with 26 fewer deaths than for the same period in 2012.
While law enforcement and transport experts rarely comment on the statistics mid-year, the downward trend in road deaths continues despite ever-increasing numbers of cars on Victorian roads.
The financial-year road toll of 256 is 40 less than the five-year average and amounts to 74 fewer deaths on state roads than in 2007-08.
The latest Transport Accident Commission statistics also show the number of deaths among 16 and 17-year-olds fell to just two in 2012-13, down from nine previously.
The gradual rollout of the Graduated Licensing System began in July 2007, with changes to P-plate licensing beginning in July 2008. Drivers who started learning as the new system was introduced are now gaining their full licences.
The recent fall in young road fatalities is outpacing the 4.8 per cent decline in the toll overall, and was offset to an extent by a surprising rise in deaths among elderly road users.
There were 15 more fatalities among 60 to 69-year-olds (39 compared to 24 previously) – an increase of 62 per cent.
The decline in road deaths figured most in greater metropolitan Melbourne (down 7 per cent in 2012-2013) and on rural roads (down 11 per cent).
The sharply lower figure for the first half of 2013 (113 deaths versus 139 previously) has raised expectations of a lower annual toll. Last year, 282 people died on Victoria’s roads.
Although wary of making predictions, Mr Lyngcoln pointed out that for the past five consecutive years Victoria has recorded new lows.
“Victoria’s road safety performance is among the best in the world,” he said.
Pedestrian deaths were also down in the latest year – 31 in 2012-13 compared to a five-year average of 48 – with the decline attributed mostly to the wider introduction of 40km/h zones in areas of high pedestrian activity.
TAC chief executive Janet Dore said the state had put in place several initiatives designed to cut the toll further.
“Whether it’s through improving our road network, enhancing vehicle safety or changing attitudes to speed, we have a range of ways that we can reduce regional road trauma,” she said.
Last year the State Government announced a revamped strategy, committing $1 billion over 10 years.
Ms Dore said that The Safer Road Infrastructure Program (SRIP), which forms part of the strategy, “allows for work ranging from the sealing of [road] shoulders, installation of rumble lines, wire rope barriers or guardrails to intersection improvements”.
The program also includes infrastructure upgrades in greater Melbourne and regional Victoria, including new traffic lights, turning signals, overtaking lanes and roundabouts.
“These improvements, co-ordinated by VicRoads with the support of TAC funding, are targeted to roads where they are most needed in terms of reducing fatality and serious injury crashes,” Ms Dore said.
The government’s strategy was the biggest-ever commitment to road safety in Victoria, according to VicRoads’ Mr Lyngcoln. “[It] aims to lower the road toll by more than 30 per cent and bring down the number of serious injuries resulting from on-road smashes, which was 5000 last year, down to fewer than 3850 a year.”
Ms Dore added: “We know speed is the highest contributor to the road toll, and along with other causes such as alcohol and fatigue, our campaigns and education programs aim to eradicate these influences on drivers.
“Ultimately, we want to make every journey a safe one for all Victorians.”