Fact sheet: Indigenous Australians

Indigenous Australians bear a higher burden of road trauma and are nearly three times more likely to die in road crashes than the non‑Indigenous population and are disproportionately represented in passenger and pedestrian fatalities.

In the Northern Territory around 50% of road deaths and 30% of serious injuries are Indigenous people yet represent 30% of the Northern Territory's population.

In 20-40% of Indigenous fatal crashes, the driver is unlicensed, a significantly higher number compared to the non-Indigenous population1.

Indigenous people also sustain consistently higher rates of pedestrian injuries than non-Indigenous people, across all ages, sexes and categories of remoteness2.

Indigenous road users are 30% more likely to be hospitalised due to a road crash than non-Indigenous people, leaving many with serious disability or long-term conditions, such as acquired brain injury or spinal cord injury3

Regional and remote areas

In addition to the acknowledged road safety issues associated with remote communities including the standard and condition of road infrastructure, Indigenous communities have unique challenges, including obtaining and keeping driver licenses, access to roadworthy vehicles, drink driving and drink walking, vehicle over-crowding, and use of appropriate child restraints and seatbelts.

In NSW, over 90% of Indigenous road deaths, and around 70% of serious injuries, occurred in regional and remote areas.4

Driver licensing and driver education

Creating parity: The Forrest Review (2014) on addressing the social, legal and economic barriers in the lives of Australia’s Indigenous people, recognised the importance of driver training and licensing as one of the most basic of work skills.

Many drivers from within Indigenous communities face challenges accessing suitable roadworthy vehicles and licensed drivers for supervised practice, or accessing other licensing initiatives and culturally competent licensing enrolment and testing facilities. This is compounded by issues such as identity document provisions and requirements and lower literacy skills, making it difficult for Indigenous drivers to obtain their learner license and progress through the Graduated Licensing Scheme.

A report released in 2013 identified that 43% of Indigenous license holders are L or P platers, indicating a high proportion of drivers are facing significant barriers to graduating to a full licence5. Work has since been undertaken to address this.

Some states have had success with tailored provision of licensing and other related government services in remote areas, such as the Northern Territory’s Drivesafe Remote program and South Australia’s On the Right Track driver licensing program for Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) and Maralinga Tjarutja (MT) Lands.

The most effective education programs are collaborative, sustainable and evidence-based, and effectively involve the communities in development and delivery.

Next steps

The Austroads report Improving Driver Licensing Programs for Indigenous Road Users and Transitioning Learnings to Other User Groups outlines proposals to mitigate barriers to driver licence ownership and retention by Indigenous and other road users.

For road safety outcomes to be successful in reducing the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in fatal and serious crashes, the challenges faced by Indigenous Australians will be addressed in reference to Closing the Gap in conjunction with reform priorities, formal partnerships and community control to capitalise on synergies created through shared goals.

1 Statistics vary depending on state data.

2 Falster, M., Randall, D., Ivers, R, & Lujic, S (2013) Disentangling the impacts of geography and Aboriginality on serious road transport injuries in NSW. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 54: 32-8

3 Henley G & Harrison JE (2013) Injury of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people due to transport, 2005-06 to 2009-10. Cat. no. INJCAT 161. Canberra: AIHW

4 Table 23 NSW Centre for Road Safety (2017) Road Trauma Amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People in NSW 2005-2015

5 Audit Office of NSW, Improving Legal and Safe Driving Among Aboriginal People, 2013