Post conference summary

Congratulations to all organisers, supporters and delegates of the well-received 2012 ACRS National Conference held in Sydney 9-10 August 2012.  It was a pleasure to see so many of you at the conference, especially in showcasing your high level of participation on a national and global level to reduce our road toll.

View the Governor-General’s welcome message to delegates here.

Read the Parliamentary Secretary’s Press Release relating to the conference here (Hon Catherine King), and the Parliamentary Secretary’s Opening Address here.

Other media resulting from the conference included several interviews with Lauchlan McIntosh, ACRS National President, and Keynote presenters Anne McCartt and Mary Sheehan.

The summary at the conclusion of the conference was provided by ACRS Fellow Mr Harry Camkin as follows:

 

A SAFE SYSTEM – EXPANDING THE REACH:

Conference summing up by Harry Camkin FACRS

Conference Objectives  

As we’ve only just completed the final plenary session, rather than try to summarise the proceedings of this conference, I’ll briefly review its directions and subsequent outcomes, as I see them, in relation to the two-fold objectives implicit in the theme.

I’ll then leave you with some issues to ponder as to where we might go next with implementation and further development of the National Road Safety Strategy.

In essence the Organising Committee sought to build on the concept used so successfully by the Victorian Chapter last year – i.e. to support the National Road Safety Strategy, especially in the promotion of the Safe Systems approach. Last year it was all about helping to implement the Strategy, this year it was, as Teresa has said in her introduction, to be about pushing the boundaries of Safe Systems, and linking with the “Decade of Action for Road Safety”.

And as Lauchlan has said, he was anticipating looking inside Safe Systems for the “future steps” referred in the Strategy, continuing to build knowledge, translating it to practice, and developing the synergies between stakeholders that will enhance their individual efforts.

Those “future steps” comprise both research and strategic development, but while they do acknowledge policy deficiencies they offer little discussion of development in this area. So I personally was looking outside of Safe Systems for policy enhancements, and I apologise if that expectation colours my perspective a little.  More of this in a moment.

The Committee hoped to build on last year’s conference at several levels, namely

– both these in terms synonymous with the afore-mentioned “future steps”

– this to pick up association with the International Decade of Action on Road Safety, and to further  some very important policies or principles that aren’t elemental to Safe Systems, e.g. a whole – of – government approach, equity, cost-effectiveness, and marketing of the Strategy itself.

 

The Agenda and Focus of Contributed Papers

Those objectives constituted a large and daunting agenda, and it is to the credit of the authors that we have touched on so much of it. The session chairs’ ranked 75% of the papers as either “good” or “excellent”, the majority the latter, on 5-point scales for both content and presentation. And we certainly got good value from the keynote addresses and reports on progress in our last plenary.

While many of the papers fall into more than one these three objective categories, of research, operations, and policy, I saw the split between them (on the basis of their abstracts, concurrent sessions obviously limiting attendance at their presentations) as roughly 60/25/15%.  But at this stage I have elected to assess their contributions to the above concepts of “extension” of Safe Systems, according to just two parameters.

One relates to improving the application of “Safe Systems” to the use of specific crash and injury countermeasures – particularly in tackling those problem areas that have not so far been afforded sufficient effort, or have not responded sufficiently to those efforts. The other covers management of the National Strategy at a policy level, including such matters as organisational accountability and capability development, resource allocation, and equity.

The first of these has been very well embraced by both plenary and concurrent sessions, and there have been some particularly valuable contributions in the areas of pedestrian, motor cycle, and bicycle crashes. I feel that the Conference organisers will be well pleased with this result. As they should be also with the coverage of Aboriginal safety and remote area problems, which at this stage I would consider to fall more into the policy area, seeking as they do to rectify inequities in the level of effort hitherto devoted to them.

Our invited speakers didn’t disappoint in the calibre of their presentations to plenary sessions, from the heartening endorsement of the College and its objectives by the Governor General through to the progress reports in our last session. I think for example that most of us came away from Nigel Robinson’s address with a far better understanding of the challenges for Aboriginal communities, and of Mary Sheehan’s continuing frustration at lack of progress in remote areas – a policy area yet to be developed in the National Strategy. And how illuminating was Ann McCartt’s demonstration of the power of a really big data base to extract issues and opportunities!

It is evident from the progress reports and other sources that Safe Systems is well on the way to being mainstreamed into planning at the operational level.

 

International Decade of Action

So far as the Decade of Action is concerned, there are as yet few signs of movement beyond its launch phase.

Of its five pillars, those of infrastructure, vehicles, and user behaviour are well embraced in the National Strategy by Safe Systems, and we have had a useful plenary session at this conference on post-crash action and care. But we don’t seem to have progressed far nationally on the Management Pillar where, for example, there is a call for multi-sectoral partnerships and the associated designation of effective “Lead Agencies”.  Some discussion about this, perhaps after the Parliamentary Secretary’s address, might have been helpful.

So, my assessment of the focus of individual papers and keynote addresses, together with feedback from Session Chairs, and watching the networking going on between sessions suggests to me that we should conclude that very useful progress will come to be made as a result of these contributions.

 

Some shortcomings?

In my view though, we did fall a little short of the Organisers’ ambitions in some areas. And here I trust you will excuse intrusion of some bias towards my own expectations of this conference.

Valuable as most of the presentations were, not all of them addressed our theme as such, many focussing on improving knowledge or practice in “traditional” areas, rather than “pushing the boundaries”. Not surprisingly, perhaps, most of those seeking to influence policy or strategic planning addressed the theme, while those at the research end of the spectrum less so.

Relatively few of the papers addressed any of the critical policy-level issues that were barely hinted at, and far from fully developed, in the National Strategy, but highlighted in for example the critiques of the Strategy by the College, by its President, and by the Chair of the ACT chapter in our Journal last year.

You can find an echo of many of those criticisms in the “Management Pillar” of the Decade of Action Plan, and there is no indication that they have entered the consciousness of the Australian Transport Council, which is the “default” “Lead Agency” for the Strategy.

Paper after paper in our concurrent sessions illustrated the synergistic benefits of grass-roots cooperation– as have both last and this years’ 3m-ACRS Diamond Awards. How much more effect could our Strategy be if we could marshal the same degree of inter-sectoral cooperation at policy level?

 We have had some very worthwhile papers in the  “Management” sessions , but with one or two exceptions, e.g. in the road freight sector, we heard little about lead agencies, about improving accountability in the corporate sector, or enhancing the “whole of government” approach echoed in the Decade schema. Nor do we seem to have progressed very far in illuminating the “opportunity cost” of road “unsafety” to other government portfolios as well as in the private sector. It’s rather ironic that while the Productivity Commission has, as John Wall reminded us, acknowledged the level of traffic crashes in Australia, it doesn’t seem interested in its impact on national productivity, having rejected the College’s overtures in this regard.

One might have hoped that the National Road Safety Council would pursue these issues, but I doubt if it is in their charter and its demise seems imminent in any case. Irrespective of whether or not we are happy with what the Council has been doing, there is still a pressing need to market the National Strategy more effectively in government and private sectors and the community generally, and that vacuum needs to be filled.

Are we satisfied with progress with our national contribution to the Decade of Action on Road Safety? Well we didn’t really develop much of a focus on that. With the traditional degree of hindsight, we could have been a little more explicit in identifying the objectives behind our theme, and maybe there’s a lesson here for those organising our next conference?

 

Conclusion

You will have had your own objectives in attending this conference, and your own expectations of its outcome. But I leave you to ponder, if you will, the following: