The Sun-Herald - Sunday 16 April, 2006

Coroner lost his driver's licence for speeding in school zone

By Catharine Munro

On foot for now ... State Coroner John Abernethy.
Photo: Jamie Wicks

ONE of NSW's most senior judicial officers, State Coroner John Abernethy, has had his driver's licence suspended for speeding in a school safety zone.

The Sun-Herald has learnt that Mr Abernethy was detected going above the legal limit of 40 kmh while driving on the Pacific Highway. The offence is believed to have occurred late last year.

Licences are suspended only when a driver exceeds the speed limit by 30 kmh or more.

Mr Abernethy said he did not challenge the charge because it would be inappropriate for a person in his position to do so.

"The NSW State Coroner advises that it is correct that his licence was suspended as a result of the payment of an infringement notice alleging an offence of exceeding the speed limit," the NSW Attorney-General's Department said in a statement released to The Sun-Herald.

"The State Coroner took the course of paying the infringement notice and accepting the consequential suspension of licence by reason of the fact that it would be inappropriate for him, as a magistrate, as well as State Coroner, to challenge the matter in court before another magistrate.

"Further, that if the speed alleged was in fact correct, he recognises that he is not above the law and must accept its consequences like every other member of the community.

"Having done so the State Coroner acknowledges that this was a timely reminder of how vigilant all members of the community must be in the driving of motor vehicles upon our highways."

Suspensions for speeding are for at least three months.

The embarrassing revelation comes almost a year after the coroner's deputy, Jacqueline Milledge, called for better traffic safety measures near schools after investigating the death of Bethany Holder at Pittwater House School, Collaroy. The five-year-old was run over by a four-wheel-drive inside the school grounds in 2002.

Mr Abernethy is not alone in speeding in school zones. An NRMA spokesman said, "Our surveys have found that compliance is only about 50 per cent."

Pedestrian Council of Australia chairman Harold Scruby said the Roads and Traffic Authority should install speed cameras and flashing lights near school speed limit areas.

"There's no doubt that flashing lights work," he said.

Flashing lights were among a raft of recommendations made to the State Government by NSW Parliament's Staysafe committee after the death in 2000 of Ella James outside Bulli Primary School. The seven-year-old was hit and killed while crossing at traffic lights. But the Government is yet to make a decision about whether to introduce the lights.

In 2003, the RTA conducted an 18-month trial of flashing lights for 40 kmh speed limits near schools at 43 zones across NSW. But the results of the test are yet to be released.

Mr Scruby accused the RTA of delaying the installation of flashing lights because of the cost.

State Roads Minister Eric Roozendaal said he would do nothing until the RTA finished evaluating the results of the flashing lights trial.

"I am working closely with the RTA to develop a schoolchildren's safety package," Mr Roozendaal said on Friday.

Education Minister Carmel Tebbutt declined to comment.


* Up to 15 kmh: three demerit points, $75 fine.

* Between 15 and 30 kmh: three points, $225 fine.

* Between 30 and 45 kmh: four points, $575 fine and three-month licence suspension by the court.

* Over 45 kmh: six points, $1550 fine and six-month licence suspension, possibly on the spot by police.

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