Traffic reporting in Australia preceded the invention of motor vehicles. In the second half of the 19th century, metropolitan, regional and suburban newspapers regularly reported on congestion and collisions involving bicycles, carriages and conveyances carrying people and livestock. There were reports and letters about road conditions, the effects of floods on roads and the need for bridges in various locations.
The rise of the motor car meant that until the 1950s, there were frequent newspaper reports of events where congestion was likely to occur and arrangements that were being made, often around horse racing events. The West Australian reported in 1945: ‘In an attempt to relieve traffic congestion after the races and to permit a free flow of traffic city bound, two streets will be closed for a time after the meeting.’ Letters and articles called for improvements in various locations around major centres. For example, a letter in the Sydney Morning Herald in 1923 complained about the ‘disgraceful congestion of traffic caused by peanut barrows at the Stadium’.
There were also cries for greater care on the part of motorists, debate about speed limits and the need for new rules. As early as 1938, the number of motor vehicles was reported by the Camperdown Chronicle in Victoria to be increasing by 50,000 annually as the ‘essential usefulness of the car’ was no longer questioned.
Two-way radios were installed in police cars, ambulances, fire engines and taxis during the 1950s. Radio employees monitored scanners for information about crashes, explosions, fires and the progress of ambulances after major events. Collision reports in newspapers often included the names and addresses of those killed, injured or charged, and the likely causes of the crash. Radio would also report major collisions as news stories and include details of those involved. This was stopped in the 1970s due to the distress caused to family members who may not have been informed.
By the 1960s, several radio stations were providing peak-hour traffic information, in part to demonstrate radio’s usefulness compared with the new medium of television. As the spread of car radios increased, radio could provide up-to-date information directly to drivers in their cars. Such information was sometimes offered in conjunction with other organisations—for example, in Brisbane 4BH partnered with the Royal Automobile Club of Queensland. In Sydney, 2UE’s breakfast host, Gary O’Callaghan, had special landline connections with operational and emergency centres installed. Dedicated police media officers were employed to convey reliable and prompt news to the public. Meanwhile, the Australian Women’s Weekly was including ‘Good Motoring’ guides with advice for its readers (for example, from 1960: ‘Don’t hang transistor radios on the rear vision window of the car’).
In the 1960s, 3XY Melbourne and 2SM Sydney pioneered traffic reports by helicopter; in doing so, they also secured an additional avenue for breaking news stories. Thirty years later, the Australian Traffic Network (ATN), modelled on a Milwaukee (US) enterprise, was established in Sydney with one helicopter and two fixed-wing aircraft. ATN’s services were to expand to other states, and also to television, with stations paying a fee for reports based on their market share.
Road authorities have set up traffic control centres where reporters can be stationed to provide regular updates. These centres, equipped with camera views in major areas of congestion around cities, provide continual up-dates via internet sites feeding information to computers, mobile devices and radio stations. Television news reports on breakfast programs offer regular traffic updates with visuals from helicopters, and road authorities have smartphone apps giving up-to-date information on road incidents.
REFs: B. Griffen-Foley, Changing Stations (2009); http://www.trafficnet.com.au.