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Tampere, Finland: The number of Indigenous Australians dying on the roads is similar to the rate in Sub-Saharan Africa, and three to five times the national average, an international conference was told on Monday.
“It’s a national disgrace,” said leading researcher Rebecca Ivers who moderated a session on Indigenous injury rates around the world at Safety2016, an international conference in Finland.
“Why don’t we have people running around hysterical about this tragedy?” asked Dr Ivers, the director of injury division with the George Institute for Global Health.
The rate of Indigenous road deaths in Australia ranges from 20 to 25 per 100,000, while fatalities in the rest of the community average about 5.4 per 100.000. Dr Ivers said the road toll for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders had dropped from around 50 per 100,000 a few years ago.
It is now hovering at the same level as some of the poorest countries in the world. In Sudan, the road fatality rate is 24.3 deaths per 100,000 and in Eritrea it is 23.3 per 100,000. In Libya, which has one of the worst road tolls, about 73 people in 100,000 die on the roads every year.
Programs such as Driving Change did more than than help Indigenous people get their drivers’ licenses, Patricia Cullen, a research fellow with the George Institute said.
She recalled a young father who tried 10 times to get his learner’s licence and failed. He became so discouraged that he decided to drive unlicensed.
“He was caught unlicensed driving three times, and the magistrate issued him an ultimatum, get licensed or go to prison. Because of the Driving Change program, he was able to get his learner’s and then provisional licenses. He is now working and says the program has changed his life and his family’s,” said Ms Cullen.
Less than 50 per cent of the eligible Aboriginal population holds a driver licence compared with 70 per cent of non-Aboriginal people.
The new program was “very practical”.
It provided drivers with mentors, located a car in the community, often paid outstanding fines for unlicensed driving (a major contributor to the high rate of Aboriginal incarceration) and helped drivers get documentation, such as birth certificates, required to get a license.
“It has a huge impact on individuals and communities,” said Ms Cullen. “It is not only about reducing transport injuries: It is about people getting jobs, it is about getting kids to school, accessing health care, and being able to socialise.”
Julie Power attended Safety 2016 with support from the ICFJ-WHO Safety 2016 Reporting Fellowship Program and Bloomberg Philanthropies.
The story Australian Indigenous road fatalities as bad as sub-Saharan Africa first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.