In 2019, a terrible set of circumstances led to the death of a 15-year-old pedestrian when a South Australian driver lost control of their supercar and mounted the footpath. Horrible road traffic accidents are, unfortunately, not uncommon in Australia, but what made this case somewhat unusual was that the driver was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs, nor were they breaking the speed limit.
Instead, an investigation found that the vehicle’s stability systems had been switched off which, in combination with the driver’s inability to control the car, ended in disaster.
Controversially, the courts found the driver guilty not of causing death by dangerous driving, which would have been the likely outcome if drugs, alcohol or excessive speed had been a factor, but of the less serious offence of driving without due care.
Regardless of the court’s decision, something has clearly gone terribly wrong, but if the two most common reasons for death on our roads weren’t to blame in this particular event, then what was?
… if a higher-tier licence is applied to drivers of high-performance vehicles only, it will change almost nothing
The South Australian Government thinks it knows and, in response to the court case, announced it would be reviewing the licensing requirements for drivers of high-powered vehicles, as well as considering a ban on vehicles that allow the driver to deactivate electronic stability systems.
Here’s where I weigh in – I agree.
A stricter Australian licensing policy is exactly what we need, but if a higher-tier licence is applied to drivers of high-performance vehicles only, it will change almost nothing. You need only a short time on our roads to encounter numerous incompetent drivers who can barely make it to the shops without causing an incident in a Camry, let alone a Chiron.
If you want proof then you need only look at the circumstances surrounding a more recent and even more horrifying incident. In New South Wales, an 18-year-old man is alleged to have lost control of his car – resulting in the death of not one, but five teenaged occupants.
The awful details will no doubt emerge in time but many significant factors are already known. Despite passing his driving test just seven months before, the driver had already been disqualified from driving for speeding offences on two separate occasions.
Secondly, he was not at the wheel of a mid-engined Italian monster, but a 150kW dual-cab ute. His actions prove that the type of car is rarely the pivotal factor in tragedy and that even the strictest penalties will, in some cases, completely fail to prevent the very worst road toll.
I would argue that a fatal crash involving this young man was chillingly inevitable. Could either of the grim events have been avoided? Other than horrifying loss, there is only one common thread that links these two nightmare scenarios.
It’s about now you’re probably expecting me to claim that if every driver was trained to hold a massive power slide like Walter Röhrl then no one would ever crash, but I’m not about to do that. Teaching drivers how to maintain control of their vehicle is something we can certainly do better in this country, and other nations including Scandinavia irrefutably demonstrate that better car control increases road safety.
More importantly though, we need to be training drivers of all cars – regardless of vehicle type and performance – to simply make better decisions behind the wheel. I’m certain if we did, there would be at least six young Australians still alive today.
The way we train, test and licence Australian drivers is badly out of date and needs to be reviewed, but if the current training and testing for new drivers is deemed to be inadequate for high-performance cars, then it may not be not suitable for any.