Sydney Morning Herald - Saturday 25 November, 2006

Halt P-plate carnage

By Jordan Baker,
Edmund Tadros David Braithwaite and Jamie Pandaram. Additional reporting by Emily Dunn
Page: 1
Section: General News
Region: Sydney Circulation. 363,950
Type: Capital City Daily
Size: 1,108.77 sq.cms.

Halt P-plate carnage

Author: Jordan Baker, Edmund Tadros David Braithwaite and Jamie Pandaram. Additional reporting by Emily Dunn





THE Police Commissioner, Ken Moroney, has challenged the State Government's reluctance to place strict conditions on P-plate drivers after another horrific crash claimed three more young lives.

Both the State Government and the Opposition refused to back an immediate change of policy on inexperienced drivers after the three year 12 students died as they drove home from their school formal celebrations early yesterday.

But Mr Moroney threw his weight behind any reforms that could help ease the carnage on NSW roads, with yesterday's crash taking to nine the death toll from three similar accidents in the space of a month.

Asked if he would support limiting the number of passengers P-platers could carry, the Commissioner said: "Well, variously there are suggestions made from from time to time from engine size to the number of passengers carried in motor vehicles through to additional driver training. I think all those are worthy considerations that if the NSW Police can add their support to any or all of those propositions that's something I'm prepared to do. . ."

However, neither the Government nor the Opposition would commit to swift changes to the rules for P-platers - the same stance they took after the recent crashes in Newcastle and Byron Bay.

Yesterday's tragedy occurred about 7am. A car carrying five students from Mt Druitt's Loyala Senior High School was turning right at a T-intersection in Glendenning when a tip- truck hit the driver's side, pushing the car 35 metres.

The 17-year-old male driver was killed instantly and two 18-year-old girls, from Oakhurst and Rooty Hill, died later. Another boy and girl, both 17, were in a serious but stable condition at Westmead Hospital.

None of the teenagers had been drinking, said their friend, Talei Hill.

"We had a really good night. Everyone was dressed up really nicely. The people who passed away, throughout the whole night, you could tell they were so happy," she said. "We had the most beautiful formal, everyone was having so much fun. Everyone was just dancing and getting along. We had Arab, Indian and Australian music. Everyone was having the time of their lives. No one in that car was drinking at all. Everyone was just relaxing, and reminiscing about the past two years."

Mr Moroney said: "There is no suggestion of alcohol, there is no suggestion of impropriety on the road, it would appear . . . to be nothing other than an accident."

The truck driver was taken to Nepean Hospital suffering from shock and is under observation.

Last night, Nihal Anandappa, whose daughter Sharmini died in the crash, pleaded for young drivers to be "very careful".

He said his daughter, who was born in Sri Lanka, was "one of the very good students" at her school and all of the people in the car were her "very good friends".

The principal, Rob Laidler, said: "It is a tragic loss to the community and to the school . . . they were very much a part of our community, a very bright group of men and women and they will be missed."

"The school will be open all weekend providing support and comfort to students."

The school held a prayer session for the dead students, two of whom were Hindu.

The accident comes in the wake of a number of recent multiple-fatality car accidents involving P-plate drivers. A 17-year-old learner driver was charged yesterday over a joyride that resulted in the deaths of two other teenagers in Newcastle earlier this month.

A month ago, four teenagers died when a car carrying five young people ran off the road at Broken Head, near Byron Bay. The driver was charged with four counts of dangerous driving occasioning death. The Byron Bay accident prompted calls for tougher restrictions on P-plate drivers, including a suggestion from the former roads minister Carl Scully for limiting P-plate drivers and introducing a curfew.

The Government's passenger limits apply only to P-platers who lost their licence for serious offences.

Queensland and Western Australia are introducing curfews and passenger limits. In New Zealand, the same restrictions have nearly halved fatalities and injuries among people aged 15 to 24.

NSW politicians refused, saying curfews could disadvantage shift workers and a passenger limit could encourage drink driving because teenagers who drink often designate a driver to stay sober.

However, the Roads Minister, Eric Roozendaal, bowed to pressure days later. He established an advisory panel on restrictions, to be convened by the Government.

Yesterday, Mr Roozendaal said the panel would meet next week. "Passenger restrictions need to be carefully considered to make sure we are not unfairly targeting young people and their parents," he said.

He said the Queensland restrictions would only apply to P-platers between 11pm and 5am. Recent NSW measures included 20 hours of supervised night driving and holding a learner's permit for a full year.

The Opposition spokesman for road safety, John Turner, yesterday agreed to review evidence of the effectiveness of passenger restrictions, but said he believed driver education was the key.

"We must also not forget the importance of a quality road network and the need for adequate highway patrols."

The chairman of the Pedestrian Council, Harold Scruby, said politicians were failing to act on passenger restrictions because they feared an electoral backlash.

"It's a matter of leadership, not poll-driven decision making. It's a matter of wanting to save lives versus winning an election," he said. "Every parent with teenage children would love to see passenger restrictions."


YESTERDAY A 17-year-old male P-plate driver and two female passengers aged 18 die after their car and a truck collide in Glendenning. A 17-year-old female and a male, 17, are seriously injured.

Nov 17 A 19-year-old woman with P-plates dies in a head-on crash with a semi-trailer at Ross Glen on the mid-north coast.

Nov 7 Two teenage boys, aged 16 and 17, are killed when a car driven by a learner driver hits a power pole in Newcastle. Two other passengers suffer severe head injuries.

Oct 25 A P-plater is critically injured and two others hurt in a high-speed crash at St Ives.

Oct 22 Four teenage friends are killed in a car crash at Broken Head. The 17-year-old P-plate driver escapes with minor injuries.

Sept 17 A P-plate driver, 18, dies after slamming into a tree near Hopetoun, NSW.

Sept 1 A 19-year-old P-plate driver hits a tree at Copacabana on the Central Coast. The passengers, aged 19 and 21, are killed.


'I'm not here to cancel fun.'

- Carl Scully, Nov 2004

'P-plate reforms will be a top priority for the new Minister for Roads.'

- Michael Costa, Nov 2005

'We need to balance young drivers on their Ps with the need to take passengers from time to time.' - Eric Roozendaal, Oct 2004


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