I'm gobsmacked by the stupidity! http://www.theaustralian.com.au/executive-living/motoring/down-to-zero/story-fngmee2f-1226818954561 BARRY COHEN The Australian February 06, 2014 12:00AM IN the not too distant future, the federal government will announce that all cars must be fitted with interlocks and alcolocks. If you don't know what they are, don't panic. Neither do most Australians. The road toll, which peaked in 1970 at 3798, dropped to 1193 in 2013, a reduction of 8.4 per cent. It will probably be lower this year. However, the federal government, flushed with past successes, appears to have grown complacent when revolutionary changes that will further reduce fatalities now enable us to talk seriously about a "zero" road toll or something very close to it. That is due to scientists and engineers being recognised as the best people to change the emphasis on how to reduce accidents and fatalities. No longer do they blame the "nut behind the wheel". They are instead introducing further changes to vehicles that will do the trick. The introduction of seatbelts gave a great boost to this approach, particularly in 1970, when the Victorian government made wearing seatbelts compulsory. Then followed the breathalyser, air bags, collapsible steering columns, recessed instrument panels, removal of mascots on bonnets and numerous improvements that have saved the lives of about 90,000 Australians since 1990, and millions more worldwide. Unfortunately, government complacency has been copied by the media, the industry and the public. Which brings us to alcolocks and interlocks. Surveys have shown that in 27 per cent of all fatalities, alcohol has been a factor and in 25 per cent of fatalities seatbelts were not being worn. M uch of what I have written is known to some of the population, but what they don't know is what can be done to protect people from accidents and, in the case of accidents, how to minimise the damage. Some 1193 people killed is not a large number, unless one of them is you or someone near to you. In a speech to the National Road Safety Conference in Adelaide last year, I said: "There is nothing parents dread more than a knock on the door in the middle of the night to find two grim-faced policemen waiting with news; it's almost always bad news." Every car has a seatbelt and a warning system that operates when the seatbelt isn't locked. The system works pretty well and requires only one adjustment. When the driver and occupants don't have their seatbelt properly locked, the car won't start. And who is going to alter the car mechanism to ensure it happens? The manufacturer, who has the skills and the infrastructure to ensure the job is done professionally. Who might that be? Holden, Toyota, Ford and Subaru, which are operating in the same areas as the motor vehicle companies and have recently indicated that they may close by 2017. Look at the figures. The number of vehicles registered in Australia is about 16 million. With an increase of about one million a year, in two to three years that will rise to about 19 million by the time new cars will be equipped with alcolocks and interlocks. Within a few years, roughly half the driving population will have an excellent chance of surviving serious accidents. Governments, state and federal, will be faced with a dilemma. Either they will make it compulsory for vehicles to have alcolocks and interlocks or take a gamble on older cars. What will it cost? According to experts, about $200 a vehicle. Not much to improve the chance of becoming a fatality. Now we come to the tricky part. How do we alter nearly 20 million vehicles, and who pays? It's an extraordinary coincidence that at the very moment changes are occurring the industry is in chaos. Headlines predict the demise of car manufacturing in Australia. If they are correct, tens of thousands of employees will lose their jobs making cars or their component parts. The only solution suggested is for the government to pour in millions to subsidise manufacturers, but the manufacturers claim money won't save them. Neither unions, government nor the industry have put forward any practical suggestions. There is a solution. When Holden and others close in 2017, there will be a a lot of excellent infrastructure sitting idle. It could be a good base to convert car factories to plants that can introduce interlocks and alcolocks for the millions without them. Many factors must be taken into account before a decision is made to proceed. Restructuring will not start seriously until 2017, so there is ample time. Existing factories with assembly line infrastructure would be ideal for mass installations of interlocks and alcolocks. The staff is already there. The number of vehicles requiring conversion will drop each year as new cars with interlocks and alcolocks already installed come off the assembly line; about one million a year are usually registered. Cost to the government should not be a major factor. The annual cost of the road toll is estimated at $27 billion. Within a decade the number of annual fatalities should drop to about 300. So would hospital and disability bills, insurance, repairs and a host of other costs. Those with doubts should look at the dramatic drop in fatalities after the introduction of compulsory seatbelt wearing. Australia was one of the leading countries in reducing the road toll by 70 per cent. That's about 10,000 lives saved in a decade. Can we do it again? There is no reason why it can't be repeated, saving billions of dollars and thousands of lives. Then we can look forward to a near-zero road toll after laser-controlled brakes are introduced. All these revolutionary changes are operating in Australia, but in very small numbers. It will happen only if the public demands government insist that manufacturers make changes - and soon. In any other field of human endeavour, the loss of 1000 lives every year would be a major tragedy. Australia had one of the worst road tolls in the world in 1970 and then one of the lowest. We can do it again. So can we put it all together? At this stage, it is only a concept, but it should be thoroughly tested by the industry, unions and government. In a few months we would know. It has the potential to solve a lot of problems. Barry Cohen was a minister in the Hawke Labor government.