Wednesday 15 September 2004
P-platers forced to train up

YOUNG drivers will be forced into compulsory driver training under a Howard government plan to reduce the number of young people killed on the nation's roads.

Federal Transport Minister John Anderson will today unveil the plan with a $3 million trial to be funded jointly by the federal Government, the Federated Chamber of Automotive Industries and a state government.

Under the proposal, driver training would be compulsory for probationary drivers in every state and territory by 2007.

Mr Anderson has been advocating national driver training since last year but today's expected announcement comes after road safety experts this week called for tough licence restrictions for young drivers.

They recommended a night curfew and passenger restrictions on young drivers, following a horror head-on smash in Perth in the early hours of Sunday.

The 17-year-old driver, her two young passengers and a 42-year-old woman were killed. The driver's 15-year-old sister was fighting for her life at Royal Perth Hospital yesterday.

Mark Stevenson, director of injury prevention and trauma care at Sydney University's George Institute, said night curfews and passenger restrictions were proven methods of reducing the youth road toll.

A spokesman for Mr Anderson yesterday repeated his view that licence restrictions were a matter for each state and territory.

Two states - NSW and Western Australia - are preparing to consider such restrictions, which were recommended to the former Federal Office of Road Safety as early as 1986.

In New Zealand, a driving curfew between 10pm and 5am, and passenger restrictions on young drivers have been credited for a 63 per cent drop in the death rate for young New Zealanders.

But Dorothy Begg, of the Injury Prevention Research Unit at the University of Otago, said she was not convinced that driver training courses were an effective way to reduce the risk to young people.

Dr Begg was concerned that, presently in New Zealand, young drivers had the option of reducing time spent as probationary drivers by completing a driver training course.

"It increases their knowledge but unfortunately it doesn't seem to translate into safer driving once they get out on the roads," she said.

It is understood that the driver training proposed by Mr Anderson is not intended to discount the time drivers spend as probationary.

The death rate of 17 to 25-year-olds on Australian roads has dropped dramatically since 1980 - from 51.8 per 100,000 to 18.2 in 2002.

But Australians in that age group are still more than twice as likely than the general population to be killed on the roads.

The death toll for 17 to 25-year-olds this year reached 224 at the end of last month.