Pedestrians are seven times more likely to be killed in the NT — especially those who are Indigenous
The memorial left for an 18-year-old woman, killed during a hit and run earlier this year. (ABC News: Steven Schubert)
David Gurriwiwi doesn’t remember the car hitting him — only that it put him in hospital for weeks afterwards.
- For every 100,000 people in the Northern Territory, 3.65 are killed because they are struck by cars.
- That rate is seven times higher than in New South Wales, and 21 times higher than in South Australia.
- Of the nine pedestrians killed in the NT so far this year, seven were Indigenous
As he sat at Mindil Beach talking to the ABC, he said that before the accident last year he had been drinking by Bagot Road, a main thoroughfare north of Darwin.
Although he has recovered, his story, and ones with far more horrific endings, have become all too common in the Northern Territory.
Already this year seven Indigenous pedestrians have been killed — making up almost a quarter of the 2018 road toll.
Among those victims was an 18-year-old girl who died in a hit-and-run on January 4.
Another 55-year-old woman was run over by a taxi driver while lying in the middle of Smith Street on June 6.
David Gurruwiwi said he was crossing Bagot Road last year when he was hit by a car. (ABC News: Emily Smith)
At Mindil Beach and Parap markets, the ABC discussed the issue with a number of Indigenous people, all of whom had known somebody hit by a car.
Jonathon Roy, a traditional owner from Elcho Island, said one of his grandsons was only four years old when he was hit by a car at a pedestrian crossing at Leanyer.
His friend, John Brown, said his brother was sleeping under a semi-trailer when it drove away and ran him over.
“It’s just really sad,” an Indigenous man, who did not want to be named, told the ABC.
“If we hear of it and we don’t know the family, we still feel sad.”
Pedestrians are 21 times more likely to be killed in the NT than South Australia, 14 times more likely than in Western Australia and seven times the rate in New South Wales, according to data from Australian police units.
|State / Territory||Road Toll July 9, 2018||Pedestrians killed||Pedestrians killed per 100,000 people|
|New South Wales||181||38||0.48|
|Australian Capital Territory||6||0||0|
(Source: Australian police units / Australian Bureau of Statistics population data December 2017)
But service providers are not surprised by the statistics, explaining that there are a range of factors putting Indigenous Australians in particular at risk.
Why sleep on the road?
Asked what might lead a person to sleep in the middle of a road — which led to the death of at least one person this year — the chief executive of Miwatj Health Corporation Eddie Mulholland said it was likely the warm bitumen.
“It’s dry season at the moment, it’s cold, and the bitumen keeps the heat,” he said.
“They probably don’t plan on going to sleep, they think ‘If a car comes, I’ll just get up’.”
He also believed alcohol consumption was among the biggest contributors to the problem, and called for better programs restricting the sale of takeaway liquor in larger towns, similar to one he said had been successful in Nhulunbuy.
In Barunga, a community group is also calling for change to alcohol policy, as six people have been killed walking 25 kilometres home from the closest legal drinking spot.
Geoffrey Barnes, an Indigenous man from Lajamanu, believed that while the ultimate responsibility rested with individuals, there was more authorities and community leaders could do.
“Leaders in community need to say something. They need to tell people if they are drunk, stay home,” he said.
Jonathon Roy said he’s seen “many flowers on the road” into Barunga, in memory of people hit by cars. (ABC News: Emily Smith)
Larrakia Nation chief executive Robert Cooper believed progress could be made through the better collaboration of service providers and by granting longer term contracts, giving them time to address underlying issues.
“It’s a symptom of wider issues,” he said.
“Not that they’re not being addressed, but they’re not being addressed well.”
‘They don’t care about an Aboriginal life’
Another Indigenous man, who did not want to be named, described always holding his wife’s hand as they crossed the road, as her sight was not good.
“[And] I get nervous,” he said.
“They [drivers] don’t care about an Aboriginal life.”
Penny Taylor, a researcher into race relations at Charles Darwin University, has conducted interviews and surveys with Aboriginal people living in Darwin, including people sleeping rough, known as ‘long grassers’.
John Brown believed drivers should be encouraged to slow down, to avoid striking pedestrians. (ABC News: Emily Smith)
“Darwin is not necessarily experienced as a safe environment by Aboriginal people according to some of the reports that I’ve heard and some of the research that we’ve done,” she said.
“There was one guy I was talking to, he said that when he goes to cross the road not only do cars sometimes not slow down or give him a wide berth, they actually speed up,” she said.
“I think there’s a feeling of aggression and harassment from some segments of the non-Aboriginal population … and that’s one of the ways it manifests.”
There are few peer-reviewed studies on whether racism in any form contributes to the higher rates of pedestrian death and injury of minority groups.
In the United States last year, NPR interviewed a public health researcher who had carried out a small experiment and found that drivers were less likely to stop for pedestrians of colour.
Another study published in 2015 by researchers from Portland State University and the University of Arizona found that African American pedestrians had to wait 32 per cent longer than white pedestrians at cross walks.
Six people have died in the past decade on a small stretch of the highway near Barunga, 300 kilometres south-east of Darwin (ABC News: Jano Gibson)
Asked whether racism played into the Northern Territory’s problem, Mr Cooper said “there is nothing to make their susceptibility [of Indigenous Australians] to being run over any more of a racism issue than anything else”.
NT Infrastructure Minister Eva Lawler did not believe racism was a factor.
“I think everybody is very careful around pedestrians. I couldn’t imagine anybody deliberately injuring or thinking to injure anybody,” she said
Service providers said alcohol abuse was one of the main contributing factors to the high rate of pedestrian deaths in the NT. (ABC News: Jano Gibson)
‘Drink walking’ campaign required?
The NT Government spends more on road safety campaigns per person than at least six other states.
But unlike other states, such as Queensland, which ran a $547,000 campaign on the dangers of “drink walking”, the NT has no specific campaign targeting adult pedestrian safety.
Instead, a department spokesperson said pedestrian safety was embedded in more generalised government road safety campaigns, and was a key component of their school-based program.
John Paterson, the chief executive of Aboriginal Medical Service Alliance Northern Territory, said the Government had failed to effectively deliver road safety messages to Indigenous people in remote communities who had limited access to mainstream media.
These were the people he deemed most at risk, as he said many accessed alcohol when visiting larger cities, consumed it outdoors and were not used to heavy traffic.
But Ms Lawler said education programs in remote areas already existed, including the Towards Zero campaign and Drive Safe Remote campaign, which she said had been rolled out in 75 communities.
“There are strong programs out there. We just need to continue and be comprehensive in those,” Ms Lawler said.
Despite spending more than other states, the NT’s road safety funding has not increased from $1.6 million in at least three years, according to the department spokesperson.
Ms Lawler said the Government would “absolutely” look at increasing that spend, if it decided that was required.