Sydney Morning Herald - Wednesday 18 May 2005
Costa vetoes no-go zones for 4WDs
By Geesche Jacobsen

Never again Joan Maclennan, top left, the driver of the vehicle that killed Bethany Holder, below left, leaves court yesterday. Right, parents pick up their children in a four-wheel-drive vehicle outside Cammeray Public School yesterday. Photos: Adam Hollingworth, Ben Rushton

A coroner's call to ban four-wheel-drives from stopping within 200 metres of primary and infants schools was promptly opposed by the State Government yesterday.

The Roads Minister, Michael Costa, also rejected suggestions for a special licence for such cars, instead proposing "proximity alarms" inside the vehicles.

The recommendations by the senior deputy State Coroner, Jacqueline Milledge, arise from the inquest into the death of five-year-old Bethany Holder at Pittwater House School in Collaroy.

Ms Milledge also recommended that schools, local council traffic committees and police review and better control traffic safety near schools.

"I am not going to let arrogant people who think that the roads belong to them and who think that they should be able to take their kids right to the door step to drop them off get away with it," she promised Bethany's parents.

Bethany was run over by a slow-moving Nissan Patrol inside the school grounds in July 2002. Daniel and Lisa Holder welcomed the recommendations.

The driver, a trained rally enthusiast, yesterday told the court she had looked around and had not seen the girl, but had stopped her car when she felt a "thud".

Joan Maclennan said she would never again drive a four-wheel drive and had tried to stop her friends from buying one.

Outside the court she called on people to think again: "I don't think they are a safe vehicle; I don't see the point of having them on city roads," she said.

The Pedestrian Council's Harold Scruby praised the recommendations, which he said would save lives. "These deaths are avoidable if we train people with four-wheel-drives how to drive and how dangerous they can be," he said.

The NSW Education Minister, Carmel Tebbutt, said she had asked the department to review the issue of cars in school grounds and be vigilant in monitoring and managing traffic near schools.

The Opposition spokesman on roads, Andrew Stoner, said drop-off zones near schools should be reviewed to ensure all cars, not just four-wheel-drives, were not involved in such tragedies.

Mr Stoner said the Opposition rejected special licences for the cars and their restrictions around schools.

Mr Costa said the Roads and Traffic Authority would review the recommendations but "at first glance" they appeared unworkable. Special licences would have to be introduced nationally, but would not gain his support.

However, he suggested that special alarms could be made compulsory in four-wheel-drives to alert drivers if they were moving close to any object.

The NRMA also rejected most of the proposals but encouraged owners of large four-wheel-drives to take voluntary defensive driving courses.

At Cammeray Public School yesterday afternoon parents with four-wheel-drives suggested the main problem was not the cars, but unsafe drivers.

Graham Hunter, who was waiting to pick up his seven-year-old daughter from the school, said he would go along with the recommendations. He said he usually parked his four-wheel-drive away from the school anyway.

But he warned some drivers behaved like they were "king of the road".

Jenny Clark, who said she had been driving four-wheel-drives for 20 years, welcomed the idea of training courses for drivers.

"It's the drivers. Every vehicle has a potential to kill," she said.

She had parked some distance from the school despite the rain and said this helped her teach the children road skills.

Meanwhile, her daughter complained about having to walk in the rain rather than being picked up by car in front of the school.

The president of the Local Government Association, Councillor Genia McCaffery, said schools already co-operated with councils but often parents "were difficult to control".

"I think we should get into education and enforcement before we get into huge expenditure," Cr McCaffery said of the senior deputy State Coroner's recommendation for traffic risk assessments at all schools.

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