Calls for driving to be considered as antisocial as smoking

Driving into a city should become as antisocial as smoking on a bus.

That's what Guardian columnist Gaby Hinsliff stated in a piece published in the UK earlier this month. 

The article asks us to try and imagine a city where no pedestrians, cyclists or children lost their life on the roads. Hard to imagine, right? Well, that is the reality for Norway's capital, where the only fatality recorded last year was a motorist running into a fence. 

In comparison, Victoria had a shocking year with more than 263 people losing their lives on our roads – over 100 of those in the metropolitan area. 

Granted, Melbourne and Victoria are much bigger than Oslo (population 673,469), but as the opinion piece points out, similar sized cities like Bristol in the UK recorded 12 deaths last year. Our much smaller city of Geelong saw 15 fatalities in 2019.

How does Oslo do it? Well it seems the lives saved in Norway are the product of a grand plan to become a carbon-neutral city, a plan that Hinsliff describes as "probably sparking a mutiny if you tried it here", referring to the UK, but it is easy to agree as an Australian.

Oslo has closed main streets entirely to traffic, removed parking spaces throughout the city, introduced measures to stop parents doing school runs by car, reduced speed limits, made it near impossible to drive directly through the city, and seemingly did everything possible to see that "drivers act as guests", to quote Oslo's mayor – and not very welcome guests at that.

Hinsliff recognises in her article that there are many difficult hurdles in following this model, such as restricting sick and elderly from accessing hospitals in the city; penalising poorer families who can't afford to upgrade to electric cars; and not having antiquate alternatives to driving... just to name a few.

But surely the difference in road toll is reason enough to start the wheels of change in motion. 

The article states:

Nobody drives in a city for the thrill of the open road, to put it mildly. There’s nothing fun about stewing in bumper-to-bumper traffic, and while sometimes drivers do it out of laziness, more often it’s just because it works; because it would be lovely if everyone cycled Nordic-style to school with the kids, stopping en route for cinnamon rolls and neighbourly conversation, but sometimes life isn’t like that. Sometimes stuffing the children into the car is the only way to manage school and nursery runs in two different directions, plus getting to work on time, plus grabbing a supermarket shop on the way home – because too many Britons live frantic lives with no slack in the day and dismal public transport options.

That sounds like something Australians can relate to.

Ultimately, Hinsliff calls for national politicians to summon the nerve to lead from the front and start making bold decisions that will transform cities into safer and more sustainable places in the future.

With our national road toll rising to 1182 people in 2019, that also sounds like something Australians can relate to.

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