Sydney Morning Herald - Saturday 2 December, 2006

NSW left behind on P-plate reforms

NSW left behind on P-plate reforms

Other states are doing much more in an effort to keep their young drivers safe, write Andrew Clennell and Anne Davies.

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IF YOU live in Albury you can get your NSW P-plate licence at 17 with just 50 hours of supervised driving. But if you live in Wodonga, just across the Murray, Victoria will require you to be 18 and to have completed 120 hours of supervised driving.
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NSW lags behind several other Australian states in imposing longer learning periods and tough restrictions on P-platers to curb the death rate among young drivers, which is about 2 times the state average.

Eighteen months ago the former NSW roads minister, Michael Costa, dumped plans by his predecessor, Carl Scully, to introduce more stringent measures, such as passenger restrictions, opting instead for a ban on P-platers driving high-powered vehicles.

But now several other states have gone further, adding to the pressure on NSW to follow suit.

From next year, Western Australia will impose a curfew between midnight and 5am on P-platers for their first six months of driving. The only exceptions will be people who apply to travel for work.

Western Australia will also stop P-platers carrying any passenger under the age of 25 for the first six months of driving.

Steve Manchee, a spokesman for that state's Police Minister, John Kobelke, said: "The reason we're doing this is because research shows new drivers are more susceptible to death and serious injury in the first six months of driving."

In Queensland, stage-one provisional (P1) drivers will be allowed to have only one passenger under the age of 21 from 11pm to 5am under legislation introduced to Parliament this week.

Victoria does not have curfews or passenger restrictions but it does not allow drivers to get their P plates until 18, one year later than NSW.

Road safety advocates such as the NSW Pedestrian Council of Australia's chairman, Harold Scruby, believe this is as important as an 18-year-old brain can react quicker than a 17-year-old one.

Victoria has introduced a system for first-time drink-driving offenders who are under 26 or on P-plates, under which the driver will have to blow into a tube to prove their sobriety before the vehicle will start.

Queensland and Victoria are banning first-year P-platers using hands-free or Bluetooth mobile phones in cars.

Queensland is planning to stop young people getting motorbike licences until they have had a car provisional licence for a year.

In NSW, learner drivers are required to complete only 50 hours of supervised driving, compared with 100 hours in Queensland and 120 hours in Victoria, before they can sit for their provisional licence.

From 2008 Victorian drivers will not be able to get a full licence until they turn 22, as the second stage of their provisional licence - P2 - will last three years.

Mr Scruby has described the past 12 years as a time of inaction on the issue, although the NSW Government has banned high-performance cars for inexperienced drivers and has introduced a two-stage P-plate system which means drivers have to hold a provisional licence for at least three years.

Members of the Government's advisory panel, set up by the Roads Minister, Eric Roozendaal, this week, have been asked to propose other changes when the panel next meets on December 19. The Government says it wants full panel recommendations to consider in the new year.

One member, Robert Wells, the father of Bryce Wells, one of four young people killed in a crash near Byron Bay in October, is concerned about the panel's willingness to take up his proposal to limit the number of passengers young drivers can carry.

He is also cynical about the panel's make-up. It consists of representatives of the Motor Accidents Authority, police, the NRMA and members of the Government's youth advisory council, among others.

"It's all government-appointed How the hell can that be an expert panel?" he said.

The NRMA's panel representative and policy adviser on road safety, Anne Morphett, said: "We have serious concerns about passenger restrictions.

"[It comes after] we have made significant inroads in changing the culture about designated drivers."

Ms Morphett also said the NRMA opposed a curfew system and questioned whether police resources should be taken up approving special licences for workers should a curfew system be introduced.

Two P-platers, both aged 20, were caught yesterday within 10 minutes of each other exceeding the speed limit by more than 70kmh, NSW police said. One was in Newcastle, the other in Bonnyrigg. Both had their licences suspended immediately.
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