Recommendations from crash inquest

TOUGHER safety measures could soon be in place on Fraser Island on the recommendations of a Coroner who investigated the crash deaths of three backpackers this week in Hervey Bay.

State Coroner Michael Barnes yesterday recommended the speed limit on the island’s Eastern Beach, where the young tourists died in two separate crashes last year, be lowered from 80kmh to 60kmh and the driving age for hire vehicles be increased to 25.

He also suggested a safe driving questionnaire be completed by anyone applying for a permit to drive on the World Heritage-listed island.

Mr Barnes will also recommend to the DPP that a charge of dangerous driving causing death be laid against 29-year-old Takashi Nukutou, the driver involved in the December rollover that killed passenger Takeshi Sakai, 25.

“I am of the view that on an objective view of the facts, the manner of Mr Nukutou’s driving – particularly the high speed he was driving at just before the crash occurred – was dangerous and I would expect a jury would find likewise,” Mr Barnes said.

His findings were delivered at the close of a week-long inquest in Hervey Bay investigating the deaths and the policies and procedures adopted by the 4WD hire industry into vehicles taken to Fraser Island.

Mr Takeshi’s death followed those of Ian Davy, 22, and Concetta Dell’Angelo, 26, whose vehicle also rolled in April when driver James May swerved to avoid a wave.

Autopsy reports ruled that Ms Dell’Angelo died of head and chest injuries and Mr Davy from head and neck injuries.

Mr Takeshi died of multiple injuries after being flung from his vehicle which was travelling at high speed before it rolled on soft sand.

None were wearing seatbelts.

Mr Barnes in his findings acknowledged the unique challenges in ensuring the safety of young independent travellers to the island.

He recommended all 4WD hire vehicles undergo annual safety inspections due to the “failure” in the current self-regulatory system.

Passenger and luggage restrictions are already in place and forward facing seats must be adopted for all vehicles by the end of this year.

Tag-along tours will come into effect in July, which Mr Barnes said would have significant “safety, social and environmental advantages”.

He said the success of the program should be monitored with a view to encouraging greater participation by island visitors in the future.

The police officers who investigated each crash said they were satisfied with Mr Barnes’ findings.

“The message has got to be to go over and have a good time but follow the rules and don’t drive like a bloody idiot,” Sergeant Steve Webb of the Wide Bay Forensic Crash Unit said.

Senior Constable Glenn Rusten described the recommendations as “stepping stones” to a safer island environment.

“Anything to reduce the road trauma on any road is a good thing, but as with any processes, they will need to be monitored in the future to ensure these measures are having a positive impact,” he said.

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