Walking comprises the largest transport mode because almost everyone is a pedestrian at some stage in their journey. Walking and cycling can provide many benefits, including improved health, and reduced pollution and congestion. However, pedestrians and cyclists are vulnerable road users, as they have little or no protection in the event of a collision. Certain groups of pedestrians are particularly vulnerable, such as the elderly, the young and those who are impaired (for example by alcohol or drugs). There has been a steady decline in the number of pedestrian fatalities over the last decade. However, in 2016 there were 182 pedestrian fatalities (14% of all fatalities), an increase for the second year in a row. Pedestrian fatalities and serious injuries are most common in major cities and towns (including on local roads, and higher volume roads with mixed traffic use), but also occur in more remote locations. In 2016, a total of 29 cyclists were killed in road crashes.
There is risk for vulnerable road users even at low speeds, but it is clear that the chance of injury or death increases dramatically above certain speed thresholds. There is a large increase in deaths for collision speeds above around 30 km/h, while the critical speed of impact for serious injury and for particularly vulnerable road users is likely to be less than this. The solutions include lower speed environments; separation of pedestrians and cyclists from other road users; and provision of appropriate crossing facilities. Solutions also lie in improved vehicle design and technology, road user education, training and enforcement.
Previous examples of safety improvements to address vulnerable road user risk include the reduction of the default urban speed limit from 60 km/h to 50 km/h. This measure resulted in reduced pedestrian casualties (for instance, a 20% reduction occurred in South Australia). More recently there has been some movement to 40 km/h speed limits in urban activity centres and CBDs. In NSW, the 40 km/h zone in the Sydney CBD has recently been extended, and the NSW Government has produced guidance on 40 km/h speed limits for high pedestrian activity areas. Improved pedestrian protection through vehicle design and technology is also likely to have led to safety improvements.
This Action Plan contains additional activities aimed at improving vulnerable road user safety. Actions 4 and 9 call for the development and promotion of vehicle safety technologies expected to bring benefits to pedestrians and cyclists. Action 3 calls for a combination of infrastructure and speed reduction measures to reduce trauma at urban intersections. Action 6 highlights the expanded application of lower speed limits to address fatal and serious injury risk in pedestrian and cyclist areas (30 km/h in high risk areas, 40 km/h or lower in high use zones). Several items in the Other Critical Actions list will also improve safety for vulnerable road users, through applying Safe System principles to all road infrastructure investment, improving speed enforcement, attempting to reduce driver distraction and drink driving, and reducing the risks to vulnerable road users of sharing the roads with heavy construction vehicles.