Two car collision involving tourists on the corner of Cape Otway Road and Princes Freeway, Mt Moriac. Picture: Peter Ristevski
Two car collision involving tourists on the corner of Cape Otway Road and Princes Freeway, Mt Moriac. Picture: Peter Ristevski

Tourists aren’t the real killers on our roads

THE community is still dealing with the shock of a horror holiday road toll and already the "experts" are coming out of the woodwork with crackpot road safety solutions.

The latest is that foreign tourists are the real menace on our roads, despite the fact there is no real evidence to show they are over-represented in accidents.

First it was Victorian Liberal MP Sarah Henderson with her concerns about tourists on the Great Ocean Road, then it was Queensland experts insisting tourists sit for T-plates, despite official figures suggesting they make up roughly one per cent of those involved in fatal accidents. Next there'll be the usual push for more speed cameras with lower tolerances for the 99 per cent of us who don't drive like idiots.

Already, there are rumblings about New South Wales adopting a ridiculous 2km/h tolerance for speed cameras and the Centre for Road Safety is now ramping up the rhetoric about the dangers of driving at just 5km/h over the speed limit, with their Executive Director Bernard Carlon saying this week that "for every 5km you add to your speed you double the risk of having a crash".

Three members of the Falkholt family were killed after a Boxing Day collision with serial driving offender Craig Anthony Whitall. Lars, Vivian and Annabelle were all killed, with Jessica (right) now fighting for her life in hospital.
Three members of the Falkholt family were killed after a Boxing Day collision with serial driving offender Craig Anthony Whitall. Lars, Vivian and Annabelle were all killed, with Jessica (right) now fighting for her life in hospital.

It's way too early to get an accurate picture of what caused the spike in the road toll yet but nevertheless the message is already that "small increments" of speed add "a significant amount of risk".

Talk to the people who actually police the speed limit - the police - and they'll tell you that message is a furphy. They say most speeding-related fatalities involve very high speeds - and serial offenders, many of whom don't even own a licence. Some estimate that the numbers of unauthorised drivers involved in fatal accidents could be as high as 50 per cent, although NSW safety authorities put the figure at a much lower 6 per cent.

Despite this, highway patrol police aren't given access to a database of disqualified drivers. Police have numberplate recognition technology to identify unregistered cars but nothing to spot unlicensed drivers. If unlicensed drivers were linked to their cars' numberplates, it would make policing hoons easier.

And aside from the unlicensed drivers, there are several other killers that don't get the attention they deserve: fatigue, alcohol and drugs and the growing menace of mobile phone distractions. One senior former officer we talked to referred to phones as "the new speed".

Tourists are over-represented in accidents on Victoria’s Great Ocean Road, but only make up 1 per cent of fatal accidents. (Pic: Channel 9)
Tourists are over-represented in accidents on Victoria’s Great Ocean Road, but only make up 1 per cent of fatal accidents. (Pic: Channel 9)

There's also the fact that the people most likely to be involved in a high-speed accident are usually driving older cars without potentially lifesaving technology. You'll wipe off that excess 5km an hour far quicker in a new BMW than an old ute.

A recent study found that hundreds of lives could be saved if the average age of the Australian fleet was reduced by just one year.

Safety body ANCAP says that vehicles built before 2000 represent just 20 per cent of the fleet but are involved in 33 per cent of accidents.

Newer cars can halt a skid, scan the road ahead and keep a safe distance to the car in front and slam on the brakes if the driver isn't paying attention. Other, older cars take far longer to stop and don't have any electronic safety aids.

But if the government's first move on the road toll is to clamp down on motorists going 5km/h over the speed limit - or soft targets like international tourists - they will have failed us again.

Richard Blackburn is the editor of News Corp's Motoring liftout.



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