The Courier Mail - Wednesday 3 November 2004
Powerful cars fuel risks for the highways
THE inclination of a macho driver in a super-powered car is to find out how fast it will go -- not on the racetrack but on the first available stretch of road unlikely to be patrolled by police or monitored by speed camera. The lack of sufficient experience is not a drawback in the challenging world of the dare-devil, the show-off, the reckless or the simply stupid egged on by mates. But add experience and take away the macho element. Why would any driver need a four-door six-cylinder sedan designed to travel significantly faster than twice the limit of legal highway speeds?
Car manufacturers do not launch new models to sit in the showroom or win production car races; they're made to increase market share. And price is a big factor in the decision-making process when it's time for a trade-in or up-grade. Ford's performance arm has just introduced a new turbocharged Falcon which has so much pulling power every buyer will be given an advanced driving course. Ford has refused to release its acceleration figures because of concerns about negative reaction from the safety lobby but independent tests by The Courier-Mail showed the car could reach 100km/h in second gear, and its top speed was not found. It has a price tag below $60,000 and Ford expects to produce 60 per month.
Without doubt the high performance car will provide an effortless mountain ride and set new standards in the overtaking lane. And it will carve its market on the basis of value and performance. Ford Performance Vehicles expects customers will be slightly younger than the 35-55 age range of V8 buyers, probably white collar workers, former Euro car buyers or Subaru WRX owners who now have a family. And the first of them will be on the roads just in time for the Christmas-New Year holidays. Of course, even road safety campaigners are among the first to point out that each driver is responsible for his or her own behaviour behind the wheel; that the reason a car goes at illegal speeds has nothing to do with the accelerator but with the foot on the accelerator. Although it is not the only high-performance car on the market, this car has a capacity for which the Australian road is not designed.
The fatality rate for young drivers is disproportionately high. The 17-25 age range, which make up more than a quarter of deaths on Australian roads, is the particular focus of government road safety campaigns and zero blood alcohol limits are enforced for new drivers. In Victoria, they are not permitted to drive specified high-performance cars yet we know from experience that young drivers seek performance if they can afford it. In Queensland, the State Government moved to cull dangerous drivers with a rule that anyone caught speeding at more than 40km/h over the limit is fined $700, loses eight demerit points and is disqualified from driving for six months. About 12 irresponsible motorists fail this test each day. Unnecessarily high performance cars provide governments and road safety campaigners with yet another issue.
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