By Patrick Francis
Summary: The Macedon Ranges Shire’s Draft 2023 to 2032 Mobility and Road Safety Strategy misses an opportunity to significantly improve community safety and wildlife safety on council managed roads close to towns and across the shire for the next 10 years.
It has omitted important facts around causes of collisions and impact of vehicle speed on human and wildlife injuries and fatalities. There are four key short comings in the draft strategy.
Firstly the authors have failed to analyse the impacts of increasing numbers of residents who share local rural roads within a 5km radius of district towns. A new classification for shared roads outside town boundaries but within 5km of the boundary is required to ensure the safety of pedestrians, cyclist and others who share these rural roads with vehicles for exercise and recreation such as nature observation.
Secondly the failure to introduce a safe maximum speed limit on rural roads shared with pedestrians and cyclists in accordance with guidelines is a form of discrimination against residents with disabilities or have particular conditions such as being pregnant, or are parents with children or are elderly and use a motorised mobility device because the roads are so much more dangerous for them to use for exercise and recreation.
Thirdly the authors have no understanding of how land use in rural conservation and farming zones outside of town boundaries is continuing to change away from food and fibre production towards carbon sequestration and biodiversity enhancement which encourages build-up of wildlife populations. The consequence of this build-up is more collisions between vehicles and wildlife causing an increasing number injuries and fatalities to people, an increasing number of vehicle damage insurance claims and an increasing number of wildlife deaths and injuries.
Fourthly, the authors have failed to consider the Councils duty of care to pedestrians and wildlife who legally share rural roads outside town boundaries with vehicles. Given the relationship between vehicle speed and pedestrian and vehicle occupants fatality rates are known, Council may have a case to answer for not acting to reduce legal speeds below the fatality threshold.
ROAD SAFETY UPDATE 3 January 2024: 296 people died in vehicle collisions on Victoria’s roads during 2023. In the annual summer holiday police road blitz over 18 days starting before Christmas to 2 January 2024 there were approximately 18,000 driving offense fines of which 7500 were for driving above the speed limit.
Before the Shire can introduce an effective road safety strategy it needs to accurately identify the road system under its management across the shire, how locals use these roads, and how is the environment changing adjacent to roads across the shire, then re-classify roads accordingly.
The Shire’s population is forecast to increase by 24% up to 2036. Table 1 shows an estimated 1.22% annual increase until 2036. More people mean more private vehicles on local roads and more commercial vehicles supplying goods and services to residents living adjacent to these roads, and more people using these roads for recreation.
Table 1: The Macedon Ranges Shire population is expected to increase by over 14,000 by 2036. Source: MRSC towns population projections 2021 to 2036, MRS Population Summary January 2023.
Data from the Shire’s 2020 Draft Rural Land Use strategy highlights how land use across the Farming Zone is shifting away from conventional farming like grazing livestock or growing crops to no farming at all with properties used for lifestyle and conservation, Figure 1A. Similarly across the Rural Conservation Zones the majority of property owners are not farming at all, but use the land for lifestyle and environmental living a priority, Figure 1B. These land use change trends have significant impacts on how future road safety needs to be addressed as they alter how local access roads managed by the Shire Council are used by residents, visitors and why wildlife numbers crossing roads are increasing.
Figure 1A: The number of properties across the shire containing livestock are declining which encourages wildlife to return to browsing across properties. Source: MRSC 2020 Draft Rural Land Use strategy.
Figure 1B: Across the Macedon Ranges Rural Conservation zones more than 60% of properties are not involved in farming opting to use land for lifestyle and environmental living which encourages return of wildlife. Source: MRSC 2020 Draft Rural Land Use strategy.
The council is responsible for the maintenance of approximately 1700 kms of local roads and their verges across the shire, table 1. This responsibility should embrace a Duty of Care for all road users but in the strategy authors make no attempt to identify who is using the category 3, 4, 5 and 6 access roads and provide statistics around road accidents, injuries and fatalities associated with these roads.
Table 2: The Council is responsible for the maintenance of most of the roads throughout the shire which are category 3,4, 5 and 6. Source: Macedon Ranges Shire Council: Roadside Conservation Management Plan May 2021.
Given the recognised reason that many residents move to the shire to take advantage of the rural nature of towns and surrounding farm land, the strategy should identify how road use has changed and will continue to change as the shire’s population increases.
The emerging use of category 3, 4, 5, and 6 roads outside town boundaries but within a 5km radius of towns is recreation. People are now using these roads for bike riding, exercise, horse riding, dog exercise and connecting to nature and observing local fauna, flora and livestock in adjacent verges and paddocks, figure 1.
Figure 1: Category 3, 4, 5 and 6 property access roads within a five km radius of Macedon Ranges Shire towns are regularly used for recreation, nature observation and exercise by town, rural conservation zone and farming zone residents. Photos: Patrick Francis.
This means that the prevailing road safety guidelines for category 3, 4, 5 and 6 access roads within 5km of towns are inadequate to meet Council’s Duty of Care towards residents who use the roads other than driving vehicles on them. All these roads have their maximum speed limit determined by the Department of Transport and Planning’s Speed Zoning Policy edition 2 – December 2021. Most category 3, 4, 5 and 6 roads which are not major connecting roads have the same default maximum speed limit, 100km/h as major highways despite significant differences in road surface, collision safety hardware and verge management, figure 2.
Figure 2: Melbourne Lancefield highway has the same default maximum speed limit as most Category 3, 4, 5, and 6 property access roads within a 5km radius of Macedon Ranges Shire towns. Right a family using Moffats lane (100m outside the Romsey town boundary) for nature observation admire a koala in native vegetation on private property unaware that vehicles can overtake them at 100km per hour. If any person is struck at that speed the consequences are fatal. Photos: Patrick Francis
The Speed Zoning Policy imposes a default 100km per hour speed limit without the requirement to inform all road users what the maximum speed for vehicles is. So those people who use roads for exercise and recreation outside town boundaries where no footpaths are practical are placed in extreme danger with almost 100% fatal consequences if hit by a vehicle at speed above 60km per hour. The Draft 2023 to 2032 Mobility and Road Safety Strategy provides no information to residents and visitors about vehicle collision danger from the default maximum speed limit on category 3, 4, 5, and 6 roads adjacent to towns.
The Speed Zoning Policy document itself makes no allowance for pedestrian safety outside town boundaries, as a consequence the Shire’s rural road managers have no guidelines on which to make recommendations for lower default speed limits. In contrast the Speed Zoning Policy accommodates all road users safety within town boundaries and sets speed limits to lower the potential for pedestrian injuries and fatalities.
The Draft 2023 to 2032 Mobility and Road Safety Strategy should include a request to the Department of Transport and Planning that the Speed Zoning Policy edition 2 – December 2021 be amended to include a decision making process for lowering the default speed limit as low as 40km per hour on shire managed roads outside town boundaries shared with vehicles by residents for exercise and recreation. Appendix 2 gives an example of such a decision making process and compares it to the existing road managers decision making process that currently excludes consideration for pedestrians, bike riders and wildlife on rural access roads outside of town boundaries.
The data showing impact of speed on pedestrian/bike rider fatalities has been measured for decades in Australia and across the world. Figure 3A taken from VicRoads Speed Zoning Guidelines 2017 shows a 100% pedestrian fatality rate can be expected from a collision above 65km per hour. The Guidelines state “The relationship between vehicle speed and crash severity is critical for pedestrians as shown in Figure 3. Pedestrians and cyclists are likely to be relatively safe only in areas with traffic speeds of below 40 km/h. At this speed, most potential collision situations can be recognised by drivers and avoided. If a collision occurs, damage and injury will be light to severe but rarely fatal. On average, eight out of ten pedestrians die if hit by a car travelling at 50 km/h, while only one out of ten dies if the car is travelling at 30 km/h.”
Given this statement it is difficult to understand how the authors of the Draft 2023 to 2032 Mobility and Road Safety Strategy can only suggest a default maximum speed limit of 80km/h on Shire managed rural roads within a 5km radius of towns which are used by pedestrians.
The VicRoads pedestrian casualty data is supported by USA research which shows the fatality rate is around 80% at 64km/h, figure 3B.
Figure 3A: How impact speed affects the risk of pedestrian death. Speed above 55km per hour has a 100% risk of death. Source: Figure A2, VicRoads Speed Zone Guidelines 2017.
Figure 3B: The issue of how vehicle speed relates to pedestrian fatality rate is recognised around the world. This data from the Institute of Transportation Engineers USA highlights how speed at 64km/h usually results in an 80% fatal outcome. Its highlight why the 50km/h default speed limit is required to replace the current 100km/h limit on rural roads within 5km radius of Shire towns.
Despite this known high fatality risk at speed above 55km per hour the 2021 Speed Zone Policy makes no provision for pedestrians, bike riders etc sharing local roads outside town boundaries. The only provision made is contained in figure 4 in the 2017 Guidelines which provides for an 80km per hour maximum speed limit on a “low volume road with a high crash risk”, Appendix 2. Macedon Ranges Shire has some of these 80km/h maximum speed on a small number of roads but this limit bears no relationship to the fatality risk to pedestrians and wildlife on the roads based on VicRoads and other data, figure 3A and 3B.
The Draft 2023 to 2032 Mobility and Road Safety Strategy Strategic Theme 5 states: “15. Advocate for reducing default 100 km/h speed limit to 80 km/h on unsealed roads with the intention to reduce wildlife trauma, vehicle damage and personal injury”. This disregards the VicRoads evidence (Figure 3A) which shows that a maximum speed below 60km per hour is required to lower the risk of personal injuries and fatalities as well as vehicle crashes. The Theme 5 – 15 advocated speed be reduced from 100km/h to 80km/h indicates Council’s duty of care to pedestrians and wildlife is being ignored.
Why speed kills
Transport NSW Research into why speed impacts fatality rate shows that the faster a vehicle is travelling the longer is the drivers reaction time and stopping distance before a collisions. At 100km/h the stopping distance on a dry bitumen road in the event of an emergency associated with a pedestrian or rider is 133m. In contrast at 50km/h the distance to stopping in an emergency is 37m, Figure 4. On gravel roads the stopping distances involved are greater. Currently most of Shire’s managed rural roads within 5km radius of towns have a 100km per hour default speed limit.
Figure 4: Currently the default speed limit on most rural roads outside town boundaries is 100km per hour. In the event of an emergency associated with a pedestrain , bike rider, horse rider, the driver takes around 133m to stop. If travelling at 50km per hour it would take 37m. Sources: Graph Transport NSW, photos Patrick Francis.
A recent article on the America Walks web site demonstrates the issue of vehicle speed and pedestrian safety is a universal one. “If a car moving at 32km/h strikes a pedestrian, the probability that it will be a fatal collision is quite small – typically about 1 in every 40 incidents. However, the pedestrian is four times more likely to be killed if the vehicle’s speed is 48km/h, twenty times more likely at 64km/h, and the probability of death rises to 90% if the collision speed is 80km/h. And pedestrians are not the only road users made more vulnerable by higher speeds – bicyclists, wheelchair users, and occupants of vehicles are all much more likely to be killed or seriously injured in higher-speed collisions. Therefore, a simple and effective safety strategy would be to reduce vehicle speeds on roadways where collisions are more likely.”
Disabled pedestrians are discriminated against
America Walks raises an equality issue on the use of rural roads within a five km radius of Shire towns. If a person is not fit enough to move quickly off the road onto the verge as a vehicle approaches (and they may not even hear it if coming from behind if have impaired hearing or on the phone), then the chance of collision and injury is even greater. This means disabled people, pregnant women, parents with young children in prams or on bikes, and older people are discriminated against by the current default maximum speed limit to use these roads unless the speed is reduced to at least 50km/h maximum.
The pedestrian safety data is clear it is not safe to be a pedestrian or cyclist on the Shire’s managed rural roads outside town boundaries unless the default maximum speed limit is reduced to 50km/h or less, preferably 40km/h.
The personal danger walking or riding on gravel roads is not confined to vehicle collision there is also the danger of stone strikes and dust inhalation as vehicles overtake or pass causing injuries to people. The severity of both stone strike and dust increases as vehicle speed increases above 50km per hour.
Figure 5A: One of the unintended consequences of the Draft Strategy’s strategic Theme 5 point 15 which advocates “for reducing default 100 km/h speed limit to 80 km/h on unsealed roads” is that it discriminates against people with special needs or disability to use such roads within a five km radius of Shire towns because even at 80km per hour an impact with a vehicle is likely to be fatal. VicRoads data suggest a default maximum speed limit of 50km/h or less is appropriate to ensure greater safety for pedestrians. Photo: Woman with child in pram takes evasive action as she is overtaken by a vehicle on Moffats lane Romsey approximately 800m south of the town boundary, Patrick Francis.
Figure 5B: Without a significant reduction (100km/h to 50km/h) in the default maximum speed limit on council managed rural roads in a 5km radius of Shire towns people with any sort of health or physical disability are discriminated against by the draft 2023 to 2032 Mobility and Road Safety Strategy compared to able body people for using the roads as pedestrians and cyclists because of the possible negative impacts caused by dust inhalation and stone throws from vehicles overtaking or passing them. Photo: Vehicle travelling south on Moffats lane at approximately 80km/h, Patrick Francis.
Figure 5C: The Strategy fails to recognise the danger from vehicles travelling greater than 50km/h facing pedestrians and cyclists on Council managed rural roads outside town boundaries due to topography such as crests, dips, and curves. A pedestrian can be out of site such as this jogger as she descends a crest and if an approaching vehicle’s speed is too high (above 50km/h) the driver may not be able to avoid a collision. Photos Moffats lane Romsey, Patrick Francis.
Understanding interaction between land use, population increase, vehicle occupant safety and local wildlife
A critical deficiency in the Draft 2023 to 2032 Mobility and Road Safety Strategy is its failure to address the complex interactions that are increasingly occurring across the shire between population growth, land use change which is encouraging wildlife populations to increase in hot spots, and vehicle collisions with wildlife causing serious injury and death to people and wildlife plus increased vehicle insurance claims and premiums.
Figure 6: A feature of increasing population in Macedon Ranges Shire towns and increasing tourism combined with changes to rural land use that encourages wildlife is more vehicle accidents, insurance claims and driver/passenger injuries and fatalities associated with a maximum speed limit often inappropriate for the road. Photo: Patrick Francis Melbourne road near Black Range road.
Major vehicle insurance companies publish data on wildlife collision claims and hot spots for collisions. The AAMI data shows that roads close to towns in Macedon Ranges Shire feature in the Top 5 Victorian Hot Spots for collisions in most years, figure 7.
Figure 7: AAMI publishes collision claims hotspots around Australia, the fact that roads close to towns in Macedon Ranges Shire feature in Victoria Top 5 Hotspots highlights the danger for residents and tourists. Source: AAMI.
Insurance company Budget Direct has investigated its vehicle wildlife collisions claims a step further and reported on fatality and injury outcomes. While the data is old (2001 to 2005) the message is clear, people are dying in collisions with wildlife, from collisions with other vehicles, and from swerving to avoid collision and hitting roadside hardware, figure 8A and figure 8B. The data shows 9 fatalities, 215 serious injuries and 408 other injuries happened in 2001 – 2005. Transport NSW claims on its web site that “one in every 41 casualty crashes on country roads involves a vehicle hitting an animal”.
LHD Lawyers states in its web site article “What to do if you hit a kangaroos while driving” that thousands of drivers or passengers are making Compulsory Third Party (CTP) insurance claims from injuries sustained from a kangaroo and other wildlife collisions. “In 2019 alone, over 7,000 drivers made a CTP claim for injuries sustained from a kangaroo collision.” It also points out that to cover damage to vehicle the owners needs to have comprehensive car insurance. Such insurance is becoming increasingly expensive and encourages owners to equip their vehicles with collision damage prevention hardware such as bull bars.
Figure 8A: People are being killed and seriously injured in collisions with kangaroos. Source: Budget Direct 2019.
Figure 8B: Vehicle drivers and occupants are not only under injury threat from direct impact in collisions with wildlife but are also under threat from other vehicles. Source: Midland Express.
The seriousness of vehicle and wildlife collisions in Victoria has been investigated by medical researchers. In a paper by J. Y. Ang et al published in Emergency Medicine Australasia in 2019 researchers confirm the insurance company claims data that wildlife vehicle collisions are increasing in Victoria, figure 9. This research is based on data from Victorian trauma hospital admissions. The researches key points were:
• Animal–vehicle collisions are under-recognised as a road safety issue.
• Collisions with kangaroos and wallabies accounted for more than half of all animal– vehicle collisions.
• The population-adjusted incidence of animal–vehicle collisions resulting in major trauma increased 6.7% each year between 2007 and 2016 in Victoria.
Figure 9: Statistical analysis of hospital casualty admissions following collisions with wildlife in Victoria show the trend in numbers of collisions is increasing. Source: Emergency Medicine Australasia 2019 31, 851 – 855.
The researchers also investigated the demographics of animal vehicle collisions. The found the majority of people injured were males in the 34 – 64 years age group, most collisions were in peri-urban areas, and road users involved were spread between motor vehicle occupants, motor cycle riders and bike riders.
Figure 10: The vast majority of vehicle occupants involved in collisions with wildlife were males and the most frequent animal involved was kangaroo.
This data demonstrates how important understanding the ecology behind vehicle wildlife collisions and why different actions to improve safety to what has been done in the past should be included in the Draft 2023 to 2032 Mobility and Road Safety Strategy.
Land use is changing
The interactions between vehicles, pedestrians on rural roads close to towns, and wildlife are going to increase. That’s because wildlife populations are increasing across the Macedon Ranges Shire’s farm and ruralconservation zones due to a range of critical climate change and biodiversity extinction issue.
Firstly, land use is changing towards environmental ecosystems improvement across the shire’s farming and rural conservation zones. As shown in Figures 1A and 1B there are less land owners with livestock on their properties. That means more owners are managing their farms for wildlife conservation through programs like Land for Wildlife, Catchment Management Authority (CMA) and Melbourne Water supported riparian zone conservation programs.
Figure 11: An increasing number of land owners across Macedon Ranges Shire have no interest in farming livestock and devote their properties to wildlife conservation and habitat restoration. Wildlife numbers are dramatically increasing as a result. Photo: kangaroos on a lifestyle property near Riddells Creek, Patrick Francis
Biolinks are being developed across the shire with the support of the Biolinks Alliance, Landcare groups and Melbourne Water. Such links encourage the build-up of wildlife within the links and their movement along them. This movement crosses and or is adjacent to many Shire managed rural roads with a 100km/h default maximum speed limit. It why so many native animals are being killed along these wildlife corridor hotspots, figure 12.
Figure 12: A typical example of why biolinks become such a threat on shire managed roads when the default speed limit is 100km/h. Moffats lane crosses through biolinks on either side at Sandy creek bridge. Wildlife regularly move along the biolinks and when they cross the lane are regularly killed because vehicle speed can be too high to avoid collision. The default maximum speed limit within a 1km of such biolinks should be 50km/h.
Secondly, Best Practice farming incorporates holistic management to ensure all ecosystems services including biodiversity are protected and enhanced alongside food and fibre production. The Macedon Ranges Shire Council is encouraging adoption of holistic farming methods with its promotion of “regenerative farming” with field days and workshops.
This farming methods change is about to be given financial impetus through the federal government’s Nature Repair Bill introduced to parliament in March 2023.
The scheme will issue a tradeable certificate to landholders who conduct activities that increase biodiversity and repair nature. Because it gives farmers and other landholders income for protecting the environment and increasing biodiversity and wildlife it will have particular appeal in peri-urban shires like Macedon Ranges where landowners are turning away from conventional food and fibre production.
Peri-urban shires are recognised for their loss of biodiversity and concern for threatened species. Macedon Ranges shire has been highlighting this issue for a number of years, figure 13.
Figure 13: Macedon Ranges Shire council recognises that some native species are under threat of extinction and encourages landholder to adopt holistic management principles to protect and restore wildlife. Source MRSC web site.
The Nature Repair Bill will work alongside carbon credits methodologies managed under the Emissions Reduction Fund. The most widely adopted methods so far are re-afforestation and soil carbon sequestration. The Macedon Ranges Shire is supporting landholders interested in obtaining re-afforestation carbon credits through the Community Carbon Project a joint program with North Central Catchment Management Authority and other councils. The carbon sequestered as Australian Carbon Credit Units on participating landholders properties will be purchased by Councils and other businesses as part of their abatement strategy to offset their own greenhouse gas emissions to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.
The North Central CMA’s business development manager said “There are wins for the landholder, the community and local wildlife” by undertaking revegetation work on private properties through the Community Carbon Project.
The wildlife co-benefit of re-afforestation has been demonstrated on some farms within Macedon Ranges Shire since the 1990s. Not only are these farms net CO2 sinks, their wildlife species increase has been substantial, figure 14.
Figure 14: As more farms adopt re-afforestation credit and biodiversity credit programs as well as biolinks across the shire, there will be a dramatic increase in wildlife populations with an increasing threat to public safety associated with vehicle collisions as well as pedestrian and cyclist collisions. Photos show how wildlife habitat has increased substantially over 27 years on two farms just 2km south of Romsey. Numerous wildlife are being regularly killed on the two roads adjacent to the farms.
When holistic farming methods and biolink plantings are combined with the two federal funded credit markets Nature Repair and Emissions Reduction Fund re-afforestation a massive catalyst exists for an exponential increase in wildlife habitat and wildlife populations across Macedon Ranges Shire. Given the need to combat the climate crisis and demand from local governments and businesses to source greenhouse gas abatement credits to meet net zero by 2050 policy commitments it is likely that 20 – 30% of Macedon Ranges Farming Zone and Rural Conservation Zone will be revegetated with trees and shrubs for abatement and biodiversity purposes. That means a potential increase in wildlife habitat across the shire of between 26,000ha and 40,000ha by 2050.
This in turn will cause increased vehicle wildlife, vehicle pedestrian interactions as town populations increase unless the default 100km/h maximum speed limit is reduced to around 50km/h on roads crossing or adjacent to wildlife hot spots.
The authors of the Draft 2023 to 2032 Mobility and Road Safety Strategy have not taken these important factors into account and the serious negative impacts they are going to have on vehicle driver and occupants safety and pedestrian and cyclist safety across the shire.
Figure 15: As a result of the climate and biodiversity crises up to 40,000ha of the Macedon Ranges existing farming zone and rural conservation zone land could be revegetated for carbon and biodiversity credits up to 2050. This will dramatically increase wildlife numbers and collisions with vehicles resulting in an increasing trend in people injuries and fatalities unless action is taken to reduce vehicle speed in wildlife hot spots.
The authors of the draft strategy have included actions within Strategic Theme 5 which are questionable.
Action 14 refers to installing more roadside signage but VicRoads “Fauna sensitive road design guidelines state in section 6.4.3 “Success of permanent signage in reducing roadkill and public awareness diminishes over time, particularly with local residents familiar with the signs”. Given category 3, 4, 5 and 6 access roads are used primarily by locals this strategy has little chance of impacting safety for vehicle occupants and wild life.
Many roads already have such signs. For example Moffats lane (a default 100km/h speed limit) which starts on the Romsey town boundary and heads south through the farming zone has along its 2km length 5 council erected wildlife warning signs and 4 land owner erected Land for Wildlife signs, yet wildlife are regularly being killed on the road, figure 12.
Action 14 refers to undertaking communication campaigns. The Shire has been using communication campaigns to inform vehicle drivers about danger of collision with wildlife for around a decade. There is no evidence presented in the Strategy that such campaigns are having any effect because data from insurance companies, wildlife Victoria and hospital admissions suggest collision numbers are trending upwards year by year.
Action 14 makes scant reference to “exploring new technologies”. VicRoads August 2012 Fauna Sensitive Road Design Guidelines describes alternatives in considerable detail for a range of native animals. Bridge underpasses and large culverts are often suggested mitigation methods known to be effective for reducing road kills; see Appendix A “Types of Fauna Mitigation”. Funding should be included in the Shire’s annual budget for such a mitigation program as per figure 16. Fenced off creek habitat often becomes a biolink and associated bridges and culverts can easily and inexpensively be transformed to wildlife underpasses for wombats, echidnas, kangaroos and wallabies, figure 16.
Figure 16: There are a range of innovative and effective ways to protect wildlife on Council managed rural roads such as underpasses which are promoted by VicRoads but ignored in the Strategy. Sources: illustrations VicRoads August 2012 Fauna Sensitive Road Design Guidelines; photos Patrick Francis
Under Wildlife Safety on page 25 the authors commit Council to undertake actions which have no ecological basis. Firstly it refers to maintaining vegetation control along “busy” Council roads. What does “busy” refer to in the road categories in Table 1 and what does vegetation control mean – removing shrubs and trees? Presumably the authors contend that removing native vegetation is more acceptable to the community than requiring drivers to travel at a slower speed.
The same question applies to point two, with the authors committing Council to “cutting back bushes and trees to ensure you see animals on either side of the road”. This action defies the science behind collisions as outlined in figure 4 which clearly shows how speed impacts stopping distance to avoid a collision. Does this action commitment mean that road verges alongside biolinks or Land for Wildlife properties will have all bushes and trees cut back to ground level so vehicle drivers have an uninterrupted view of animals for the split seconds they emerge from the biolink to the centre of the road?
How does this action fit with the Council’s own Biodiversity Strategy, with the state’s Catchment and Land Protection Act and Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act and with the Federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act when native plants some of which could be endangered are being cut back for vehicle drivers convenience in the name of safety when slowing down would achieve the safety outcome required?
Figure 17A. Authors are committing Council to vegetation control along roadsides so that drivers can continue to drive at 80 to 100km/h. Such vegetation control clearly does not avoid road kills as this slashed verge on Moffats lane attests. Stopping distance is a function of vehicle speed and an animal crossing a Council contractor slashed verge will not be seen in time to avoid a collision if vehicle speed is above 50km per hour. The dash cam footage (top) was taken a few days prior to wombat being killed at the same spot adjacent to the Sandy creek bridge. Two more wombats were killed by a vehicle close to the same spot one month later. The reflection at the top of the photo is a Council erected Wildlife crossing sign. Photos: Patrick Francis.
Figure 17B. The Strategy’s recommendation for cutting vegetation down such as slashing grasses on Council’s managed road verges to give drivers greater opportunity to see wildlife and slow down to avoid a collision is not supported by road kill evidence. The authors don’t understand that road verges even if cut are often narrow extensions of biolinks and biodiversity conservation on private property so vehicle drivers travelling at speed greater than 50km/h will not have time to stop as an animal bounds from private property across the verge onto the road. Nor do they understand that slashed grass is more appetising to kangaroos than rank grass with seed heads so these animals are attracted to slashed road verges especially in summer and autumn where they provide a green pick. This strategy will have little impact on road kill numbers and native vegetation often containing endangered species like chocolate lilies and native grass and herb species will be slowly destroyed. Left Black Range road default maximum speed limit 100 km/h June 2023; Right Knox road, legal speed limit 80km/h August 2023. Photos: Patrick Francis.
Vehicle damage protection equipment – bull bars
A significant trend for regular users of rural roads is to equip their vehicles to minimise damage in a collision with wildlife. An increasing number of peri-urban vehicle owners are equipping vehicles with bull bars as they know that repair costs are high as are comprehensive insurance premiums to cover for animal collisions. Owners making claims for animal collision damage will see their annual premiums increase and they will lose their no-claims bonus.
Despite road side warning signs to slow down in wildlife hotspots drivers with vehicles equipped with bull bars are more likely to ignore the advice and continue at the legal maximum speed feeling secure in the knowledge that any collision will not result in significant damage to the vehicle or injury to passengers. Unfortunately the premise that bull bars protect the driver and passengers from injury is considered by some vehicle safety experts as unreliable. That’s because bull bars “…degrade the lifesaving potential of all the crash safety systems in the vehicle.”***
Figure 18A: Bull bars are increasingly fixed to vehicles frequently driven on rural roads as a means for owners to minimise damage to vehicles and avoid insurance claims. They give drivers a false sense of security and encourage travelling at higher speed despite numerous road signs across the Shire warning of the presence of wildlife.
VicRoads website also urges caution about fitting bull bars to passenger vehicles. “In a crash, a bull bar fitted to a passenger vehicle may result in more severe injuries to pedestrians. Research has shown that a vehicle fitted with a bull bar can cause death of a pedestrian at half the speed of a vehicle without a bull bar.
‘A pedestrian can usually survive a collision with a vehicle travelling at, or below 60 km/h. However, if the car is fitted with a bull bar, the speed at which the pedestrian will survive is only 30 km/h. In other words, by fitting a bull bar to a vehicle, the pedestrian survival factor is reduced by 50 per cent.” **
Given around 50% of vehicles being driven on the category 3, 4, 5 and 6 roads in the shire are fitted with bull bars and these roads within a 5km radius of town boundaries are being regularly used by pedestrians and cyclists then VicRoads is suggesting a speed of 30km/h to prevent fatalities. This is an enormous speed difference to the Draft 2023 to 2032 Mobility and Road Safety Strategy’s consideration to lobby for 80km/h maximum speed on some of its managed rural roads.
Figure 18B: Around 50% of the passenger vehicles being driven on shire managed rural roads within 5km radius of towns are fitted with bull bars which VicRoads contends increase the risk of pedestrian fatality in a collision. For these vehicles VicRoads recommends a 30km/h maximum speed limit.
The prevalence of bull bars on passenger vehicles was studied by researchers at the Centre for Automotive Safety Research, University of Adelaide in 2007. They found that 45.4% of four-wheel-drive vehicles (4WDs)/sports utility vehicles (SUVs) and 49.8% of work utilities were equipped with bull bars. One of Romsey’s commercial businesses is dedicated to equipping SUVs and utilities with vehicle protection equipment including bull bars.
Duty of care
Given the amount of published research data around the factors leading to pedestrian and cyclist fatalities when sharing Council managed rural roads with vehicles there may be an issue for Council around negligence and duty of care if the maximum legal speed limit is not reduced to what is reasonably considered as safe based on Figures 3A, 3B and 4 and a person is fatally injured on a category 3, 4, 5 and 6 road.
Shaw Reynolds Lawyers notes on its web site “Negligence is a failure to take reasonable care to avoid causing injury or loss to another person. An action in negligence against a local council exists where the council owes a duty of care, and the council breaches that duty in such a way that it causes injury and damage. One instance where a local council may be liable in negligence is where the council acts (or fails to act) in circumstances that are so unreasonable that no authority having the functions of the council could properly consider the act (or failure to act) to be a reasonable exercise of its functions.” ****
Preston Law notes on its web site that “Council has a duty of care to road users, in Council’s capacity as road authority, for local authority roads in its local government area. As a matter of general law, if a person is injured, the entity with the duty of care to that person will be found to be negligent if:
* the person with the duty of care had a duty to avoid the harm;
* the harm was reasonably foreseeable;
* the harm was linked to the person’s breach of the duty (the concept of “causation”);
* the harm was not too remote a consequence of the breach that the entity with the duty should not be found liable (the concept of “remoteness”). *****
Whether or not duty of care applies to pedestrians and bike riders sharing a council managed rural road outside a town boundary with vehicles that can be driven at speeds likely to cause fatal injury when it is reasonable to introduce a lower maximum speed limit that would make the road safer in the event of a collision has yet to be tested.
Take home message
The Draft 2023 to 2032 Mobility and Road Safety Strategy is a missed opportunity for Macedon Ranges Shire Council to improve people and wildlife safety on the approximate 1700kms of road under its management outside of town boundaries over the next 10 years. It includes plenty of statements around actions for improving safety but all are based on opinions with no evidence provided that they will have an impact on protecting pedestrians or wildlife. Of more concern the suggested actions fly in the face of road safety data which shows the relationship between vehicle speed and pedestrian collision mortality rate. The suggested actions for improving wildlife safety have no relationship to land use change, climate emergency strategies or ecosystems functions improvements. There is no annual funding proposed for innovations in and around Council managed category 3, 4, 5, and 6 rural roads that will improve pedestrian and wildlife safety.
America Walks 18 October 2022 Why Reducing Vehicle Speeds Matters to Pedestrian Safety – Part 1 (americawalks.org)
VicRoads: A summary of the key road rules regarding pedestrians in Victoria. Pedestrians : VicRoads. According to this web site it is legal to walk along rural roads in Victoria if there is no footpath or nature strip, or if you can’t use them presumably because of their rough nature including drains or waterways, the presence of trees, shrubs and grasses and presence of native animals which should not be disturbed or which if disturbed or stood on could be danger such as snakes, ticks and spiders. However, you must walk on the other side of the road facing oncoming traffic. This is difficult to undertake if a road is not two lanes as is the case for many Macedon Ranges Shire managed rural roads.
VicRoads states “Under the road rules pedestrians are people:
- on foot
- on wheeled devices such as skateboards, rollerblades, wheelchairs and motorised mobility devices
- pushing a bicycle.” Presumably a person pushing a pram is also a pedestrian.”
The rules are skewed to pedestrians walking on roads within town boundaries and not on narrow rural roads.
The Draft 2023 to 2032 Mobility and Road Safety Strategy should include a request to the Department of Transport and Planning that the Speed Zoning Policy edition 2 – December 2021 be amended to include a decision making process for lowering the default speed limit as low as 30km per hour on shire managed roads outside town boundaries shared with vehicles by residents for exercise and recreation. Figure 19 shows an example of such a decision making process and compares it to the existing road managers decision making process, Figure 20 that currently excludes consideration for pedestrians and wildlife on rural access roads outside of town boundaries.
Figure 19: An alternative model decision making process for shire rural road managers to use when recommending a change to the 100km/h default maximum speed limit on category 3, 4, 5 and 6 shire roads within 5km radius of town boundaries and on roads through or adjacent to wildlife hot spots such as remnant native forest, Land for Wildlife properties and biolinks. Source: Patrick Francis.
Figure 20. The current decision making process shire rural road managers use for setting or recommending change to the default maximum speed limits on rural roads. Source: VicRoads Speed Zone Guidelines 2017.