252 Lives Lost: Changing the language of road trauma

Minister for Roads and Road Safety Luke DonnellanScrolling through the Towards Zero website, you may notice that we don't use the phrase 'road toll'; there is a reason for that. Because of Towards Zero's holistic approach, every way we come at road safety is aimed at  getting us Towards Zero, whether that's by improving roads, promoting safer vehicles, or changing the way we talk about road trauma.

Each of the government agencies in the Towards Zero partnership has committed to changing the language of road trauma. Words like 'fatalities', 'toll' and even 'pedestrian' and 'vulnerable road users' make the reality of people being killed or seriously injured on our roads distant and faceless. We know there is a significant ripple effect felt within the community every time a person is killed or injured. We want the language to reflect that road trauma is not just numbers, its people's lives.

Tweet from Minister DonnellanPart of the problem with talking about the 'road toll' is it implies that road trauma is part of the cost of having a road system allowing people to move from A to B. A toll is the price you have to pay for using something – with CityLink, for example, it's a few dollars. The price Victoria pays for having a road system should never be death or serious injury.

The other issue with the phrase 'road toll' is it has the effect of dehumanising road trauma. By reducing people's lives to a number, it's easier for those of us who have not been touched by trauma to feel distanced from the issue. In a way, it's unfair to those who have died and their loved ones, because we all have a shared responsibility and we can play an active part in saving more lives on our roads.

Rather than saying, "Our road toll stands at 252", why wouldn't we say "252 people have died on our roads so far this year", and remind ourselves that we're talking about real people who have died?

The number of lives lost still has a place in the Towards Zero goal – it reminds us why we're reaching for it at all – but it's not simply a tally. Each person whose death contributes to that number was someone's son or daughter who was a parent, sibling, co-worker or friend.

As Doug Fryer of Victoria Police wrote in his recent piece for the Herald Sun, "by humanising the cold, hard numbers" we can change attitudes.

"By recognising the lives lost on our roads as real people and not merely as a price to be paid, we can set the example for future generations."

*Please be advised the Road Fatality Review Panel revised down the number of lives lost on our roads in 2015 by five to 252.