Local strength leads to road safety action

City newspapers have plenty of power, but a campaign by The Great Southern Star in regional Victoria shows the countless day-to-day results regional newspapers can notch up.

The Great Southern Star's road deaths campaign.

The Great Southern Star’s road deaths campaign.

The Star scored safety improvements for a treacherous section of highway at Leongatha, but editor Brad Lester says the paper will continue agitating the Victorian government for bigger changes.

More than 1100 people signed newspaper’s ‘Fix Crightons Hill’ petition late last year. The town of Leongatha has a population of around 6800.

“We were actually asking for a realignment of the highway, a bypass of the existing bends up there,” Mr Lester said. The Star also campaigned for a reduced speed limit.

Crightons Hill is part of the Strzelecki Highway, north of Leongatha, which connects South Gippsland with the La Trobe Valley. Four motorists died in accidents there in as many years, and the second death in 2014 spurred Mr Lester into action.

“Editorially, we based it around a fatal accident that claimed the life of a teenage girl from Mirboo North, a town within our readership,” Mr Lester said

The Star spoke to the family of a man killed earlier that year about their experience being involved in the crash, and the need for more warning signs, and splashed the story across the front page.

The petition took off and attracted the attention of then Deputy Premier and local MP, Peter Ryan. The petition was tabled in state parliament.

Soon, signs were put in place on Crightons Hill and VicRoads installed rumble strips to alert drivers when they were nearing the centre of the road.

Mr Lester was pleased, but the paper won’t stop there. The Star wants flashing lights installed on the signs and is still fighting for a reduction in the speed limit. At a recent by-election, journalists raised the issue with local candidates.

District chamber of commerce president Peter Watchorn led the chamber’s support of the petition, and said it may seem like a small achievement, but it was one that wouldn’t have occurred without the intervention of the local newspaper.

“They’re there to support the local community, they get these politicians on board who are always looking for their heads in a photo,” Mr Watchorn said.

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