Words by: Jonathon Davidson
Image credit: ABC News
Regarding a fatal crash last Saturday on the Kwinana freeway due to thick smoke and poor visibility, Police Minister Liza Harvey was unable to tell presenters working for 6PR which department is actually responsible for the closure of Kwinana freeway during safety hazards – namely bushfires.
“Police and authorities are looking into that…” Ms. Harvey told the 6PR reporters when asked which department held responsibility, according to this WAToday article.
Mainroads Western Australia are currently running a three month trial on their website where a map is included, updated with present fire alerts around the Perth area.
Mainroads are responsible for announcing closures, but not for the actual closures themselves, as far as a visitor to their website can ascertain. While the Department of Fire and Emergency services hold the role of awareness and warning, roadways do not fall under their direct jurisdiction.
The context in which the questions were asked referenced the fact that Saturday morning drivers received no alert, through any agency, of fire hazard or thick smoke along the Kwinana freeway.
Ms. Harvey made further comments which were ill-received, including the statement “We can’t be in every vehicle”.
It is believed that the crash occurred when a driver came to a near-stop in the face of thick smog covering the road. It is believed that at the time the first driver stopped, the driver of a semi-trailer – vision also impaired – collided with the back of the first vehicle, killing both drivers instantly and sending debris over the road, setting the scene for the front page photo the crash received in the weekend West.
A number of state groups exist pertaining to West Australian roads and road law – which are all contained within the WA Road Traffic Code 2000. The state-sponsored Office of Road Safety states on its website that the organisation’s mission is to work towards the implementation of its own safety standards, procedures, and harm reduction and/or crash reduction strategies. However – while implying itself as authority source – the Office of Road Safety is basically a lobby and public awareness group providing access to broad information coming from further up the hierarchy.
The Road Traffic Code 2000 – one seriously impressive piece of legislation, at 388 pages – does not clearly list which divisions, associations, organisations or departments are responsible for dealing with the closure of a freeway – or standard road – in instance of fire and smoke hazard.
While the Road Traffic Code 2000 clearly extends its own content to that authority of police officers and corresponding courts and judges, Ms. Harvey’s comments underline that even within the institutions involved there is some dispute and measure of ambiguity in who ‘should’ have responded to the events on Saturday morning.
The pressing nature of this ambiguity is intensified by the fact 6PR reported a taxi driver had called in to comment that he had his taxi stopped on the side of the Kwinana for up to two hours, not being able to see more than a few metres ahead in the smoke before his windscreen.
Colin Barnett has weighed in, saying that he is of the belief that “the correct procedures” were carried out in the time leading up to the crash.