Urban cowboys to face tough 4WD driving test

Sydney Morning Herald

Tuesday 22 June 2004
By Alexandra Smith

Four-wheel-drive owners should have a special licence and be made to sit off-road driving skill tests before taking to the city streets, a federal parliamentary report recommends.

The report on national road safety, tabled in Parliament yesterday, urges the Federal Government to develop a national licensing system, targeting owners of four-wheel-drives and caravans.

"Driving conditions in these vehicles are sufficiently different from those in standard cars to warrant such an approach," the report says.

One submission, published in the report, says four-wheel driving tests would ensure drivers understood and could competently handle their off-road vehicles in all conditions.

Four-wheel-drives account for about 20 per cent of new car sales, but as the love affair with off-road vehicles grows so too does the number of four-wheel-drives involved in fatal crashes, research has shown.

Analysis published last year by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau found that over the nine years to 1998 the number of fatal four-wheel drive crashes rose 85 per cent.

An accredited trainer with the Australian National Four Wheel Drive Council, Norman Bee, said he was supportive of extra training for drivers who used their four-wheel-drives for recreational purposes.

But Mr Bee, head of the council's South Australian driver training unit, said he did not think drivers should have to undergo training if they did not buy their four-wheel-drive to drive off road.

"I don't think you can make the training mandatory for those type of people."

The chief executive of the Pedestrian Council of Australia, Harold Scruby, has been pushing for special licences for all four-wheel-drives over two tonnes for several years.

"What they really are trucks made to look like cars," Mr Scruby said.
"People who drive trucks don't have standard licences, so why should drivers of LandCruisers and Pajeros have standard licenses?"

The chairman of the committee that produced the report, the Queensland MP Paul Neville, said the inquiry identified measures that could reduce the national road toll.

The report called for 50kmh limits on all suburban roads in Australia and a 60kmh limit on urban arterial roads.

Mr Neville said that every year about 1700 people died in road accidents in Australia and many more were seriously injured.