In the post-World War Two economy, when Australia rode into a vibrant and profitable world of export on the sheep’s back, private car ownership came quickly to the reach of the country’s baby booming middle class.
As the newsreel of the time noted, “at Tom Ugly’s Bridge over Georges River, they squeeze through two lanes at a rate of 13,500 cars per lane per day.”
With more cars, many more cars, would come a parallel rise in road deaths.
“Exponentially, it was increasing at a rapid rate,” says Head of Transport Safety at Transport NSW, Peter Dunphy.
“In the early 1970’s, road fatalities had peaked at around 1300; it was increasing rapidly.”
But in November 1971, NSW would be one of the first in the world to make it mandatory to wear a seat belt.
“If you look at last year, in comparison to 1970, 284 lives were lost on our roads; that’s a reduction of 78 per cent,” says Paul Toole, Deputy Premier and Regional Transport and Road Minister.
Many older cars still didn’t have seat belts, and it took time and education, to make wearing a belt a default setting.
One ad campaign would feature two eggs in two egg mobiles, as elucidated by the plum cheeked narrator, one with a seat belt, one without.
They take turns to drive into a wall.
It’s no spoiler that beltless ol’ mate doesn’t fare so well.
But the new road safety policy drew instant results.
“After the first year, there was a 25 per cent reduction in fatalities in NSW,” says Peter Dunphy.
“It was really revolutionary policy, and world leading at the time.”
Apparently, the current stats say there’s a 99 per cent uptake and compliance with seat belt wearing.
But it would take many years for the message to become habit.
And that has meant, for all the circles of families and friends affected by fatal car accidents, a better 2021 than 1971.
“The statistics clearly show,” says the Deputy Premier, “put your seat belt on; you’re crazy if you don’t.”