Sarah Frazer


Why indifference to road safety leads to totally avoidable deaths and injuries

 

On 15 February 2012, Sarah Frazer was on her way to commence University at Charles Sturt in Wagga Wagga when her car broke down on a stretch of the Hume Highway about 5 klms south of Mittagong. When the engine overheated the vehicle lost power, and of course power steering and brakes.

Sarah had no option except to pull over into the emergency breakdown lane but the breakdown lane was not built to the “Austroads” 3.0 metre Australian standard. At just 1.5 metres wide, it was far too narrow for Sarah to get her vehicle out of the 110 kph speed of the passing traffic on what is Australia’s premiere expressway. To make matters worse, there was a safety guardrail which ran for over 1000 metres preventing her from getting her vehicle off the road.

Sarah rang for assistance and following a call out by an NRMA Patrol officer, the NRMA called a tow-truck driver to assist her. While hooking up the car, a truck side-swiped Sarah’s broken-down car and collided with the pair, killing them both instantly.

On 24 April 2014 the driver of the truck, Mr Kaine Barnett of Marulan, was sentenced to 3 years jail (18 months non parole) having been found guilty of two counts of 'Dangerous Driving Occasioning Death" Sec 52A (1) (c) of the NSW Crimes Act 1900 (This section states that 'a person is guilty of the offence of dangerous driving occasioning death if the vehicle driven by the person is involved in an impact occasioning the death of another person and the driver was, at the time of the impact, driving the vehicle in a manner dangerous to another person or persons).'

As with so many incidents, the crash that killed Sarah Frazer was totally preventable and foreseeable and failures occurred along the chain of responsibility. Mr Barnett subsequently appealed to the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal. On 11 December 2014, Mr Barnett's appeal was dismissed.

While Mr Barnett is guilty of dangerous driving occasioning death, there remains a number of very obvious questions.

How is it that sections of Australia’s premiere Freeway could be built without the safety of road users in mind? How is it that three lanes could be dedicated to traffic movement (and in this case, truck movements), and only 1.5 metres allocated for an emergency stopping lane so that people were left in harm's way? Under what circumstances is it appropriate to leave vulnerable people in a high speed lane, especially given that the emergency lane did not meet Austroads' standards?.... 2012 Photo showing narrow breakdown lane where Sarah was killed - crop

The road did not meet the standards required to allow sufficient room to pull off the road safely. Had the breakdown lane been made to the Austroad standard, Sarah would not have been left in the line of high speed traffic. The truck that hit them would have just been a passing truck and Sarah Frazer would be alive today.

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On 13 September 2012 NSW Roads Minister Duncan Gay MLC advised that over 900 kilometres of high speed roads in NSW do not meet the minimum 2.5 metres Austroads breakdown standard!.

(see http://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/prod/parlment/hansart.nsf/V3Key/LC20120913022)

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This tragedy may have occurred in NSW but the responses to improving road safety in the other States and Territories have also been of concern. While all jurisdictions have agreed to the Austroad standards, the standards are simply ignored.

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So its time to take the NSW Breakdown Safety Strategy to each jurisdiction across Australia. And its time to let the Premiers and Chief Ministers know that we expect them to put people’s lives first!

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SarahGroup was set up to campaign for changes to policy and legislation to ensure that lives are not lost in preventable and clearly forseeable situations like the one that took Ms Sarah Frazer's life. There must be a commitment to renewing poor infrastructure and for drivers to take responsibility for their actions on our roads and highways. As part of its “Vision Zero” road safety philosophy, the Petition lobbied for the following:

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1. Ensure that major Roads and Highways/Freeways have breakdown lanes/road shoulders that do not leave drivers, passengers and the first call service personnel (ie. Roaside Assistance, Tow Truck Drivers, Road Workers etc) and emergency service personnel (ie. Police, Ambulance, Fire, RFS, SES) who come to their aid, in harm’s way. This would simply require that roads comply with the already established Australian standards as detailed by the peak body Austroads.

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2. Ensure that “first call” and emergency service personnel who provide assistance and protection on our roads and highways are protected by requiring drivers who pass a vehicle displaying hazard or emergency lights to “slow down” and when safe to do so, “move over” into the lane away from the hazard. On a single lane in each direction road, drivers must slow down and pass the hazard or incident with due caution.

The SarahGroup would go on to become Safer Australian Roads and Highways.

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