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Prince Charles - (QUOTE):
"The whole of the 20th century has always put the car at the centre. So by putting the pedestrian first, you create these liveable places I think, with more attraction and interest and character ... liveability."
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Sydney Morning Herald - Saturday 17 May, 2008

Triplets on L-Plates: are we there yet?

Ellie Harvey

IF YOU think spending 120 hours teaching your child to drive is tough, spare a thought for Robert O'Brien. He will spend more than 290 hours supervising his triplets on their L-plates. At a speed of 30kmh on Sydney's roads, that is the equivalent of driving 8700 kilometres - or like driving to Beijing.

Under laws that changed last year, learner drivers must complete at least 120 hours of supervised driving - up from 50 hours. And, since Mr O'Brien's wife does not have her licence, he will have to drive the equivalent of about a fifth of the way around the planet all by himself.

Parents like Mr O'Brien are demanding to know why they must carry this extra burden. In Sweden, which lifted driving practice hours from about 45 hours to 120 hours, the number of crashes involving young drivers fell by 40 per cent within two years, according to an OECD report in 2006. But Mr O'Brien believes it is excessive. How, he wonders, is he supposed to find the time, and the money, to comply with the new regulations?

When Mr O'Brien's triplets, Robert, Jason and Jessica, 20, wanted to learn to drive early last year the family, from Kings Langley, decided that Jessica would learn first because she needed to drive to work. The boys were meant to follow, one after the other, later in the year. "[But]the State Government buggered that up, didn't they?" Mr O'Brien said.

Jessica slipped through before the changes took effect on July 1 last year and has already done close to 45 of her 50 required hours. The boys tried to beat the deadline, too, but the motor registry was booked out everywhere but Lithgow, so they were stuck with 120 hours.

It has taken Mr O'Brien 10 months to give each of the boys 25 hours behind the wheel. For all three triplets, he has done 95 hours of lessons - and has 195 to go. At one hour a week each, it will be more than two years before the boys can sit for their licence.

Jessica, he says, is a fantastic driver. "If she can do it in 45 hours, why should they have to do an extra 65? ... For the life of me I cannot understand where the 120 hours came from. It's very strange.".

The lessons cost the family $30 to $40 extra each week in petrol, to which the triplets contribute. At least it is cheaper than $60 an hour for private lessons.

The chairman of the Pedestrian Council of Australia, Harold Scruby, supports the 120-hour rule, but says it is a stretch to achieve in one year. "The big joke of all this is it's so easily fudged."

Mr O'Brien suspects many L-plate drivers must be falsifying their logbooks - though not in his house. The Roads and Traffic Authority says it is unaware of any significant rise in false entries.

"If it has taken [the boys] 10 months to get 25 hours," Mr O'Brien said. "How long's it going to take [to get to 120]? Someone didn't think long and hard enough."

Andrew Fraser, the Opposition road safety spokesman, agrees. "The system is flawed. It's not the hours that count, but the quality of education."

Instead, he wants compulsory driver education in schools. "The cost [of the new regulations] is huge for families."

He says families with one car, and with more than one child learning at a time, need more consideration.

Mr Scruby believes NSW should copy Victoria, where people can apply for L-plates at 16 and P-plates at 18, giving them more time for lessons.

"You can't drink until you're 18, you can't vote until you're 18, you can't go to war until you're 18. [But we allow] children to be put in charge of a lethal weapon."

The Minister for Roads, Eric Roozendaal, said: "We need to give our children the best grounding possible for a lifetime of safe driving."


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