Young driver curfew: off the road by 10pm

Sydney Morning Herald

Saturday 7 August 2004
By Sean Nicholls August 7, 2004

Drivers under 21 are likely to be forced off the road between 10pm and 6am, restricted to carrying one teenage passenger and not allowed to drive cars deemed too powerful.

The NSW Roads Minister, Carl Scully, wants changes in place by the end of the year to crack down on fatalities involving young drivers, and he has asked the Roads and Traffic Authority to prepare a discussion paper.

"These are frightening factors, in terms of the ability of these youngsters to survive until old age," Mr Scully said.

"The challenge for the RTA on my behalf is to convince those affected that this is a good thing to do and that it's been well researched, with objective scientific analysis supporting a change in regulations on our traffic laws."

The proposals are expected to prompt heated debate about the merits of depriving young people of freedoms, and the burden that may put on parents to become their late-night chauffeurs.

Drivers up to the age of 20 represent 7 per cent of all drivers but are involved in 18 per cent of fatalities, according to Mr Scully. And there is a "huge spike" in young drivers in fatal crashes between 10pm and 2am. They are involved in 25 per cent of all fatal crashes between those hours.

"What I have seen to date is quite alarming," Mr Scully said. "And in the face of those statistical spikes that occur with drivers 20 years and younger, I believe I need to respond."

His announcement comes weeks after the Herald reported claims by the chief scientist of a US road safety body that the way to cut the road toll among young people was to ban night-time driving and their ability to carry young passengers.

The RTA responded to those remarks by saying a curfew would be hard to police, particularly in country areas, and that such moves could "significantly impact on the lives of many young drivers who are working and studying".

Mr Scully said the discussion paper would investigate such problems. He said young drivers who had to use their cars for night jobs could be granted restricted licenses allowing them to drive to and from work, as could young drivers in country areas.

"We need to make sure that this is not an inequitable outcome in terms of young folks' employment and also access to things they may wish to pursue as young people," he said.

Also up for discussion are high-performance vehicles. Young drivers could be restricted to vehicles below a specific power-to-weight ratio, in the same way motorcyclists are already prevented from riding bikes above a certain capacity at stages of the licensing process.

Mr Scully said he wanted to avoid any "unintended consequences" of implementing such a restriction, such as forcing young drivers into less-powerful but older cars which lack the safety features of newer models.

"In principal, I worry about young people having powerful cars in the early hours of the morning with a car full of mates egging on speeding and dangerous activity that is shown to be killing them."

The discussion paper will be released by mid-September, followed by about four to six weeks for community feedback.

"I think this is something mums and dads will welcome," Mr Scully said. "I know mums and dads across NSW worry when their teenagers start getting on
the road . . . and are worried sick that they might not come home."