Thursday, January 11, 2007

Oh shit, now they've gone and done it...

YOUNG drivers caught speeding will automatically lose their licence under new State Government laws that could take almost 20,000 P-platers off the roads.

As most enthusiastic drivers agree, anytime the government does anything related to the road toll, there is much skepticism and name-calling.

The NSW Government, in an effort to look like they care about the road toll, has introduced a raft of new laws aimed specifically at reducing the deaths of P-platers. And as always is the way, when one state government has the balls (or not, as the case may be) brings in a new set of laws, it slowly spreads like a virus across the nation. This is a case where the NSW didn't have the balls to do what needed to be done, they did what made them look like they are doing something.

Some of the new laws are:

  • Any first year P-plater caught speeding will automatically lose their licence for a minimum of 3 months
  • All P-plates have to be displayed on the outside of the vehicle
  • Hazardous condition driving to be part of the licence test (I'm sure getting rain on command anywhere in NSW is easy...)
  • All first year P-platers will be banned from carrying more than one passenger under 21 between 11pm and 5am
  • All first year P-platers will be banned from using a mobile phone whilst driving, even with a hands-free kit

I have a few issues with these new laws. Firstly, when the majority of speeding offences are registered via speed cameras, how is banning a driver for 3 months going to work when all they get is a letter in the mail to turn in their licence? And how many times do other people take the responsibility for another person's speeding fine, cos they have the points to spare?

Also, the curfew on carrying passengers goes against the whole designated driver idea that has been pushed for the past however many years. What this will do is get more P-platers out onto the roads after parties, probably increasing the chances that there will be drink drivers among them. It will certainly discourage people from offering someone a lift if they have a few too many to drink when they already have a passenger to carry.

I feel that P-platers are being used as a massive scapegoat for the whole road toll situation. Recently, there has been much noise about limiting the types of cars that P-platers can drive, in a similar way to the restrictions placed on motorcyclists. But, if you have a look at the photo that was used by news.com.au for the story about P-plater deaths, you can see the car is a lowly 80s Civic with hardly enough grunt to pull the skin off a rice pudding. Limiting power is not the answer, I'm sure anyone being stupid enough can kill themselves just as quick in a Civic/Excel/Charade than in a Falcadore (although suicide is a bigger problem with P-platers driving mum and dad's Magna).

What needs to be done is a look at how these drivers are trained and how the skills that are learnt hold on all through their driving careers. Here is my plan:

  • Mandatory advanced driver training courses for all learners. Training course to include:
    • Hazard awareness and avoidance: teach them how to spot that a stupid mother with a pram, doddering old fart or kid chasing a ball is going to walk out onto the road. Contrary to the idea spread by the ads on TV, sticking to the speed does not that you magically always have time to stop.
    • Emergency stopping: Set up a series of road surfaces (wet, sandy, rough, gravel, muddy, concrete/ashphalt) and make sure the driver knows how to stop quick on these surfaces.
    • Car control on lees-than-perfect roads: teach them how to recover from loss of traction in different conditions. Make sure that when it all does go wrong they can at least try to minimise the damage to themselves and others on the road.
  • Mandatory retesting of licence every five years for all drivers, with the elderly (above 65) and young (below 21) having a retest every year or two. I have seen more than my fair share of close calls at roundabouts where the older drivers among us don't know how to use them because they were never shown.
  • And parallel to the manadatory retesting of licences, is a vehicle inspection every 2 years, except if the car is less than 4 years old. P-platers invariably drive cheap cars that are often poorly maintained, how much of a factor are shoddy brakes and tyres in the deaths of P-platers? An added benefit is that well maintained cars are less polluting and more efficient.

What needs to change is the attitude towards driving in this country. At present it is seen as a right to get your licence when, in fact, it is a privilege that can and should be taken away anytime that you cannot meet the standards set. You wouldn't dare entrust your life to an airline pilot who has had his licence for 30 years without a retest would you? Yet, you gladly jump in a car with your 60 year old mother/father/grandfather/etc when there is a good chance that if an emergency arose, they wouldn't be able to handle it.

Of course, any government to subject the whole driving public to regular scrutiny is just inviting election defeat. That is why it will never happen in my lifetime.

The rate of deaths on the roads has been steadily declining for the past 30 years. How long until we reach that point that the deaths on the roads are unavoidable in relation to policing? Will there be more and more laws and restrictions placed on drivers to try and get the road toll to zero?

1 comment:

Picker34 said...

As a P plater, I 100% agree with your comments. The government needs to help train us young people rather then restrict them.