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Inquiry into Rural Road Safety and Infrastructure


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Committee Address
Terms of Reference

Chairman's Foreword

Executive Summary


Definitions and Abbreviations

The Road Safety Committee

The Victorian Road Safety Committee is constituted under the Parliamentary Committees Act 1968, as amended.

The Committee comprises seven members of Parliament drawn from both houses and all parties. The Chairman is elected by members of the Committee.

Section 4EE describes the function of the Committee as:

The functions of the Road Safety Committee are to inquire into, consider and report to the Parliament on any proposal, matter or thing concerned with road trauma or safety on roads and related matters, if the Committee is required or permitted so to do by or under this Act.

Committee Address

Correspondence: The Chairman

Road Safety Committee
Level 8
35 Spring Street

Telephone: +61 3 9651 3634
Facsimile: +61 3 9651 3691

Previous reports of the Committee are on the Web site of the Victorian Parliament. The address is

Terms of Reference

By resolution of the Legislative Council on the 1st March 2000, the Road Safety Committee is required under the Parliamentary Committees Act 1968 to inquire into, consider and report on the following:

The needs for road and bridge construction and maintenance initiatives in rural Victoria, with the aim of reporting to Parliament, by 30 June 2001, on options for infrastructure projects that improve road safety and best meet community needs.

Dated 1 March 2000

Chairman's Foreword

The genesis of the Inquiry was a reference from the Legislative Council to conduct an investigation into the broad topic of rural road safety and infrastructure.

The Parliamentary Road Safety Committee consulted widely with the Victorian rural community, speaking to representatives of nearly every rural municipality, many community road safety organisations, and numerous government officials, in Victoria, New South Wales and Canberra. Over 70 submissions were received and discussions held with more than 150 people. The Committee expresses its grateful appreciation to all those who made written submissions and/or appeared as witnesses.

The Committee discovered a complex and often not very transparent set of arrangements governing the funding of road infrastructure. Numerous road safety problems and possible solutions were presented to the Committee covering a wide range of problem situations and road user groups. An important issue raised by the community was the hazard of cars and heavy vehicles passing each other on narrow sealed roads with poorly maintained edges and gravel shoulders. A major challenge for the Committee was to determine what were the key issues and identify the most appropriate course of action.

Particularly in relation to providing a forgiving roadside for vehicles that run off the roadway the Committee was disappointed that a number of known effective actions are not being implemented more readily. The implementation of lower speed limits near school crossings and improved edgelining on the more narrow roads in fog-prone areas are other examples of safety actions that should be hastened.

The Inquiry has resulted in a large number of recommendations covering a wide spectrum of aspects of the rural road safety and infrastructure landscape. Many of these encourage further implementation of known effective actions. Some relate to physical actions, whereas others apply to research, planning, administrative and organisational matters. The Committee believes its recommendations are practical and can be readily implemented.

I thank the members of my Committee who have all participated fully in the process of the Inquiry. Each Committee member is dedicated to improving road safety for Victorians.

I also thank my Committee staff, Barry Aitken, Alexandra Douglas, Graeme Both and Lois Grogan for their splendid contributions to the Committee's work.

Andrew R. Brideson MLC


Executive Summary

This report concludes the inquiry into rural road safety and infrastructure. For the purposes of the inquiry the Committee interpreted `rural' or country to mean the area outside the Melbourne Statistical Division as defined by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

During 1999, 175 people lost their lives in 153 crashes and 1,760 were seriously injured on roads in rural Victoria. This was slightly less than half the fatalities and 30 per cent of the serious injuries in the State, though only a little more than a quarter of the population lives in country Victoria. Almost two thirds of fatal and serious injuries in country Victoria are on open roads. Rural intersections represent very hazardous locations and, specifically, local roads in country Victoria have a proportionately greater number of intersection and pedestrian crashes than arterial roads.

In country crashes more people are killed and seriously injured in single vehicles running off the road than in all other crash types combined. A disproportionate number of run-off-road crashes occur on curves.

In 60 km/h zones, most fatalities and serious injuries occur on local roads, where the crash risk is twice as high as on arterials. In 100 km/h zones, the crash rate per unit of travel is three times as high on local roads as on arterials.

Crashes on rural roads are more likely to be severe and involve a single-vehicle, often striking a fixed object such as a tree, pole, post, embankment or street furniture. A poor road environment is likely to be a significant contributing factor to crashes on Victorian rural roads, particularly those on local roads.

The Committee found that the interpretation of crash statistics was often hampered by lack of information about the travel risk of various road user groups on the different parts of the road network. The lack of travel data is a serious weakness that VicRoads should endevour to rectify.

The economic cost of rural crashes is estimated as being in the range of $600m to $850m per annum, without taking into account the unquantifiable grief and suffering of surviving victims, their relatives and friends. An economic and social problem of such magnitude should not be tolerated in rural Victoria.

In relation to infrastructure the Committee found that it was difficult to obtain adequate rural road and bridge information. The lack of knowledge of the current Victorian rural road assets and conditions, and the rate at which they are improving or deteriorating, represents an impediment to good road asset management.

The inquiry provided the opportunity to review some of the many changes in road responsibilities and funding which have occurred since the inception of the Transport Act 1983. The road funding picture in Victoria has become increasingly complex and confusing. It is a now a maze of programs, partnerships and administrative categories. There is a need for simpler, easy to understand, road funding methods. This would improve public accountability and transparency.

The Committee concluded that there was clearly widespread community concern about the adequacy of rural road funding in many parts of the State. Numerous submissions and witnesses at hearings expressed concerns, especially for some category C roads and the more heavily used local roads. However the extent of the problem is less clear.

The quality of rural local roads varied significantly across the State and there appeared to be many municipalities that were struggling with the competing demands for road upkeep and other community desires for municipal expenditure. The Committee welcomes recent changes in the Victoria Grants Commission untied road grant allocation processes as well the federal Roads to Recovery program grants for local roads. However these initiatives should be considered as being only short term remedies. There is an urgent need for more substantial and long term approaches to the management of rural local roads.

The Committee also considers that there is a definite need to assemble a comprehensive quantitative picture of the overall road funding needs for both Victorian rural arterial and rural local roads, as a basis for determining the appropriate level and direction of future investment by the three levels of government.

The Committee considers there could be advantages in aligning the financial and operational management responsibilities for Main Roads. This would also be expected to lead to more uniform and consistent road management practices on the Main Road network. Such consistency would be expected to have road safety benefits.

There appears to be a funding imbalance between arterial and local roads in Victoria. It is important that the Government ensure a proper balance in the upkeep and development of the arterial and local road networks. Almost all trips involve travel on both parts of the network and users see the road network as a single entity providing for their road travel needs. Change to organisational responsibilities might be needed, as might be some investment in local road improvements by the State.

Over recent years the concept of `regionally significant local roads' has developed. It includes not only identifying a set of roads to comprise the new road category but also encompasses more co-operative regional decision making arrangements. The Committee regards the regionally significant local road issue as one of long term national strategic importance and of particular relevance to influencing the Federal Government on the form of funding assistance which might follow after the Roads to Recovery program ends in December 2004.

Blackspots are identified by the number of reported casualty crashes occuring over a defined period. Because no account is taken of crash exposure, that is, the volume of traffic at the site, it is less likely that hazardous sites on low volume rural roads will be quickly identified. Some rural groups considered that the guidelines for blackspot programs had a built-in bias against rural projects, despite rural roads being a more hazardous environment. The VicRoads Guidelines for Potential Blackspots (August 2001) is an attempt to address these concerns.

Failure to identify the location of all crashes on roads is an information deficiency. The reporting and processing of property damage crash records should be independently reviewed, with a view to at least using the data currently received by VicRoads. Insurance records might also be used.

Market surveys have shown that good rural roads are considered important and that many roads, particularly local roads, have a considerable need for improvement.

A significant issue raised during the inquiry was vehicle speeds in shopping areas and other areas of pedestrian activity, speeding on poor quality roads and near schools. The increasing use of large heavy trucks on inadequately constructed roads and bridges and narrow sealed roads with poorly maintained edges and shoulders were common concerns. Dangerous roadsides for vehicles running off the roadway was another significant issue.

In some parts of Victoria, many bridges on local roads require upgrading for safety and load carrying purposes. Hazardous intersections, inadequate road delineation on the narrower roads, rough and dangerous road pavements and surface grip problems such as aquaplaning and skidding on wet and icy pavements were mentioned.

Inadequate footpaths, lack of suitable resting places, dangerous school bus routes and stops, railway crossing hazards, lighting and tourism-related issues were also concerns.

The Committee noted that there were some instances where the viewpoints of groups or individuals were in conflict. The most obvious case is between the need for clear roadside recovery zones, to give drivers of vehicles which have run off the roadway an opportunity to regain control, versus the desire of some to preserve vegetation for visual, flora or fauna reasons.

Likewise there are conflicts between the safety needs of vulnerable road users, especially young children near schools and elderly pedestrians in township shopping centres, and the desires of motorists and heavy vehicle operators to travel to destinations as quickly as possible, sometimes due to external pressures.

The balancing of various, often conflicting community viewpoints and priorities is not easy, however the Committee considers that the preservation of human life is non negotiable and should never be traded off for other economic, social or environment objectives.

The Committee proposes a number of infrastructure options to improve rural road safety including improved speed management and better enforcement of heavy vehicle speed and load limits and route restrictions, a higher priority for widening narrow and heavily used category C roads and wider use of shoulder sealing across the rural road network.

Other actions include trialling a `network' approach to the treatment of intersections by signing and other measures to raise hazard awareness, initiating a specific curve treatment safety program and reviewing the guidelines for edgelining and other delineation of narrow roads.

Increased attention should be given to better maintaining roads, in particular measures that improve surface grip in wet weather, improve opportunities to rest from driving and provide adequate footpaths for pedestrians and motorised wheelchair users.

A detailed investigation should be undertaken of a recent Swedish initiative of using safety barriers to separate traffic streams on single carriageway roads, to determine its possible application in Victoria.

The Committee considers there should also be a specific concentrated focus on reducing country road trauma on rural Main Roads and local roads. One way to do this is by creating Road Safety Officer positions at a local government level. Safety reviews of existing roads should also be undertaken on a regular basis to a level that both improves road safety and satisfies potential legal liability requirements.

Review of arterial road hierarchies, more consistent management of local roads, municipal local road hierarchy plans and land use planning were also topics for the Committee's attention.


1. That accurate data on the current condition and rate of change of rural road and bridge networks, particularly for local roads, be regularly collected and published in a common format every three years.

2. That the Government review all the methods currently used to fund roads in Victoria and develop more appropriate methods.

3. That the sections of the Transport Act 1983 relating to State legal classifications be reviewed.

4. That the Department of Infrastructure ensure all municipalities report projections of future road conditions and funding requirements using a common reporting format.

5. That the Government investigate, quantify and publish the overall road funding needs for rural arterial and rural local roads. The results should be used to influence the level and direction of future Federal road funding.

6. That the road management guidelines for category C roads be reviewed to give a greater emphasis to road safety concerns.

7. That the Government review the responsibility for operational management of Main Roads to achieve economies of scale, provide more uniform road management practices and potentially improve road safety.

8. That the Government review the funding of rural roads, including consideration of possible changes to organisational responsibilities and funding arrangements, to ensure a balance in the development and on-going care between the arterial and local road networks.

9. That strong representations be made to the Federal Government for more realistic financial contributions to upgrade bridges on local roads for the new mass limits of vehicles fitted with road friendly suspension systems.

10. That the concepts of regionally significant local roads and regional decision making to determine priorities be supported by the Government to improve the asset management of the most important rural local roads.

11. That to enable forward planning and effective use of funds the Government consider the introduction of rolling multi-year roadwork programs.

12. That the Government make public the information on the State's contribution to roads and the distribution of those funds to rural and metropolitan roads.

13. That information on the travel patterns of rural residents and information on travel on the rural road network be gathered by VicRoads to better assess crash risk and target safety treatments.

14. That State and Federal blackspot programs be continued and expanded.

15. That VicRoads seek administrative efficiencies by better co-ordination of the three blackspot programs.

16. That blackspot identification criteria for low volume rural roads be established.

17. That the `potential' blackspot category be evaluated and the proportion of blackspot program funding allocated to the category be kept under review.

18. That an independent review be undertaken of the costs and benefits of using property damage crash information, including insurance records, to identify locations where repeated crashes are occurring.

19. That studies of the effectiveness of crash reduction measures be continued, to maintain the accuracy of the factors used to predict the outcome of treatments.

20. That, if requested by the local municipality, VicRoads should reduce speed limits on Main Roads in areas of pedestrian activity in rural townships.

21. That VicRoads and municipalities undertake reviews of the speed management of arterial and local roads with poor alignments and road surfaces.

22. That school zones of 40 km/h in urban areas and 60km/h in rural 100 km/h speed zones be implemented at appropriate times at all schools.

23. That the `rail versus road' issue for freight be reviewed by a Parliamentary Inquiry.

24. That VicRoads and the Victoria Police expand the enforcement of heavy vehicle speed, load limits and route restrictions to stop vehicles using inappropriate routes.

25. That VicRoads give a higher priority to widening narrow and heavily used category C roads.

26. That the current restriction of shoulder sealing on category B and C roads to locations `where warranted by accident records' should be reviewed.

27. A proactive approach to shoulder sealing on isolated curves and at other identified hazardous locations on category B and C roads should commence.

28. That further investigation is undertaken of techniques for cost effectively sealing pavement edges to improve safety and assist in preserving pavements.

29. That VicRoads and municipalities develop and implement roadside management policies and strategies to improve road safety.

30. That projects be trialled by VicRoads to show the effectiveness of using the best roadside safety management practices.

31. That VicRoads initiate a specific curve treatment safety program as a matter of urgency.

32. That VicRoads and municipalities increase the use of guardrails and other forms of barriers as a means to providing a safer roadside for travellers.

33. That a detailed investigation be undertaken by VicRoads of safety barriers to separate traffic streams on single carriageway roads and implemented where appropriate.

34. That the Government financially assist rural municipalities to upgrade bridges on rural local roads.

35. That increased attention be given to improving bridge visibility and protection, including signing, lighting, guardrails and end posts.

36. That a `network' approach to the treatment of country intersections, irrigation channels and other locations by signing and other inexpensive measures to raise hazard awareness be trialled to determine its effectiveness.

37. That VicRoads develop guidelines for the sealing of unsealed sections of road that approach intersections with sealed roads to improve safety and reduce maintenance costs and dust.

38. That VicRoads and municipalities review edgelining and other delineation practices, particularly for the more narrow roads in fog-prone areas.

39. That attention be given to better maintaining roads, in particular, measures that improve surface grip in wet weather conditions.

40. That VicRoads review rest area guidelines, improve the consistency of signing and develop a specific program of resting places to combat driver fatigue throughout the rural road network.

41. That VicRoads give consideration to including footpath provision and improvement in the list of treatments eligible for road safety funding.

42. That VicRoads and municipalities give more attention to reducing night-time rural crashes by improving lighting and road delineation.

43. That there be a specific concentrated focus on reducing road trauma on rural Main Roads and local roads.

44. That all rural municipalities develop and implement road safety strategic plans.

45. That road safety officer positions be created at a local government level to promote road safety both within the council and in the wider community, with substantial financial assistance from VicRoads.

46. That road safety audits be mandatory on any road project having a State Government funding contribution.

47. That safety reviews of existing roads be undertaken on a regular basis to improve road safety and satisfy potential legal liability requirements.

48. That, to provide a more consistent and hence safer local road network, there should be a more uniform approach to the management of local roads across municipalities.

49. That municipalities establish rural local road hierarchy plans using common categories.

50. That increased consideration be given to road safety issues in the land use development process through inclusion of specific requirements in relevant planning codes.

Definitions and Abbreviations


Sealed road - A road pavement having a waterproof surface such as bitumen or concrete.

Tied funds - Funds are required to be spent on defined road activities.

Unsealed road - A road comprised of gravel or earth material not having a waterproof surface.

Untied funds - Funds do not have to be spent on roads.

VicRoads - Registered business name of Roads Corporation, the statutory body that manages the Victorian arterial road network.



Australian Automobile Association


Australian Bureau of Statistics


Australian Local Government Association


Australian Land Transport Development


Better Roads Victoria


Goods and Services Tax


Local Government Professionals


Municipal Association of Victoria


Melbourne Statistical Division


National Association of Australian State Road Authorities


National Road Transport Commission


Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development


Royal Automobile Club of Victoria Ltd


Roads of National Importance


Transport Accident Commission


Timber Industry Road Evaluation Studies


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