The face of Jessica Falkholt brings home the horror of road toll

This holiday season, the familiar and beautiful face of actress Jessica Falkholt has become a rallying call for action on the loss of life on our roads.

Jessica is fighting for her life in hospital, and if she recovers, will wake to a life without her parents and sister, who were killed in a crash on a country highway on Boxing Day.

Now, a desperate conversation has begun about where we are going wrong with road safety. 

Despite declines in the national road toll since the 1970s, experts say we are far from where we need to be, with more than 1000 killed, and many times more injured, on our roads each year. 

As regional reporters we know only too well the waves of trauma that ripple out from each and every serious road accident.

When the National Black Spot Program was introduced in 1996, we reported that story amid an atmosphere of hope that this would fix known trouble spots, particularly on our regional roads.

But a road safety expert has now labelled the scheme as no more than a bandaid measure that should be scrapped.

Dr John Crozier, chair of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons' Trauma Committee, said the national road safety strategy is failing, with more than 1000 deaths and 44,000 serious injuries each year.

That 44,000, he points out, is the entire population of many country towns. Then there's the ongoing medical bills, the lifetime effect of debilitating injuries and the flow on financial and emotional strain on families and health services.

In regional areas, the problems go well beyond road condition.

During school holidays we see an influx of visitors, often combining a mad rush to get to their destination with a lack of knowledge about the perils of country roads.

Police in regional areas are also reporting alarming results from random drug testing in addition to the existing problems with drink driving, not to mention the deadly distraction of mobile phones.

In rural areas, we often travel long distances for and work and recreation –  around 30 per cent of fatal rural crashes involve fatigue.

All these factors feed into the big one – driver behaviour, which is the many-headed monster of this complex problem.

This is a hard conversation, but one we have to have.