The Sydney Morning Herald - Wednesday 19 April, 2006

Unlicensed to kill: a traffic tragedy

By Philip Cornford

A fatal crash highlights the havoc wrought by unlicensed drivers, writes Philip Cornford.

GORAN NIKOLOVSKI loved his Subaru Impreza WRX. But it killed him and two others just three weeks before he would have become one of the most dangerous menaces on the roads - an unlicensed driver, seven times more likely to be at fault in a fatal accident than a licensed driver.

"He lived for his car," his brother Steve said yesterday. However, fate overtook Mr Nikolovski, 29, who was to have his licence revoked on May 12.

A policeman said: "Five seconds either way and it would not have happened."
Police said Mr Nikolovski, of Lurnea, was speeding on Bringelly Road near Liverpool at 10am on Monday. He lost control on a bend, veered to the wrong side and crashed head-on into a car.

Mr Nikolovski was killed, along with a passenger, Adam Norris, 20, of Casula. The driver of the second car, 75-year-old Lerlene Handley, of Padstow Heights, also died. Her husband, Jack, 80, is in Liverpool Hospital, fighting for his life.

It was not Mr Nikolovski's first offence. He was caught on January 7, fined $575 for exceeding the limit by more than 30kmh and penalised four demerit points, which disqualified him to drive.

However, "due process" takes time and Mr Nikolovski was still a licensed driver until the second week in May, when he would become one of 57,420 disqualified drivers in NSW.

Last year 55,301 licences were cancelled by NSW courts and a further 46,445 drivers lost their licences for speeding and loss of demerit points, many for short periods. From 2001 to 2005, 13,692 unlicensed drivers were declared habitual offenders. In 2004, 10,024 motorists were convicted for driving while their licences were cancelled, up from 8962 four years earlier.

Clearly, penalties - mostly fines - are not a deterrent. The biggest reason for this, say researchers, is that disqualified drivers do not believe they will be caught.

But it is at the worst end of the spectrum, in road fatalities, that the problem presents the devastating consequences of behaviour which does not recognise legal restraint or respect for the law.

The figures provided by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau are appalling. Drivers who have never held a licence are 15 times more likely to be at fault in a fatal accident than a licensed driver. Ninety-five per cent of never-licensed drivers involved in a fatal accident were to blame.

Of 121 unlicensed drivers involved in single-car deaths, 97 per cent were to blame. Of 69 unlicensed drivers involved in multiple-car fatalities, 77 per cent were at fault.

Altogether, 250 of 280 unlicensed drivers involved in deaths were to blame.
According to the Roads and Traffic Authority, 44 unlicensed drivers were involved in 43 crashes in which 49 people were killed in 2004. They constituted 2 per cent of all drivers involved in injury crashes, injuring 903 people, but were 6 per cent of 700 drivers involved in fatal accidents.

Statistics paint a bleak picture of behaviour that is reckless, antagonistic to restraint and that regards the law with contempt.

Overwhelmingly, the offenders are male, aged 16-24, with the second most numerous age group 25-39. Most were unemployed; the second biggest group comprised labourers or tradesmen.

Fifty-four per cent had never held a licence for the type of vehicle they were driving, 34 per cent were disqualified, 11 per cent had expired licences.

And who are their victims?
Unlicensed drivers mostly kill themselves and their passengers. Studies in 1992 and 1994 found that of 332 people killed by unlicensed drivers, 174 were the drivers and 101 were their travelling companions. They also caused the deaths of 43 people in other vehicles and 14 pedestrians.

All of the dead are grieved and their deaths needless, regardless of who is to blame.
With Les Kennedy and Elicia Murray

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