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Opinion: Australia needs to raise driver training standards, not lower speed limits

By Dylan Campbell, 24 Dec 2018 Features

Opinion: Australia needs to raise driver training standards, not lower speed limits

Why are we letting inattentive and inadequately trained drivers loose on our roads?

I an getting driven mad by the road toll debate in Australia – particularly Victoria, where MOTOR is based. The lack of training we are supplying new drivers before letting them loose on the roads is plain negligent, as is the lack of focus and awareness of the need for said improved training.

There is an epidemic of poor habits behind the wheel, which fester in the absence of skill. This turns into a crash when someone thinks they have a skill they’ve not been given – and the most sorely lacked of all the skills not properly taught is the mere act of paying enough attention.

This month, Victoria’s new top traffic cop, Assistant Commissioner Stephen Leane, went on record with his plans to reduce the state road toll, saying things anybody could sadly expect to hear from any top enforcement official in Australia.

In an interview with the Herald Sun, Leane said measures to be examined included more average speed cameras; requiring doctors to dob in dangerous elderly drivers; high-tech long-range cameras to catch drivers on mobile phones and without wearing seatbelts; new roadside fatigue testing; more 40km/h urban speed limits and lower country speed limits.

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“We need to find a game-changer in relation to drugs and driving,” he said, adding “we need to find game-changers in relation to vehicle safety and we need to find game-changers around enforcement and safer roads.”

Striking in its total absence from the Herald Sun article – and this is not to say it is absent also from Leane’s thoughts – was any mention whatsoever about revisiting current training for new drivers with a view to improving it.

And this all comes off the back of recent harsher speeding penalties in Victoria. If you’re caught doing 25km/h over (30km/h in NSW; 38km/h in Tasmania), you lose your licence for three months, no matter your demerit point situation. (In all other states and territories, your demerit point balance continues to determine licence suspension).

Someone screaming down a suburban 50km/h street at 80km/h? Okay, take their licence off them. But someone doing 105km/h on a four-lane freeway at 10pm where the speed limit remains an inexplicably slow 80km/h? Come on.

It says something that almost all the new cars MOTOR has through the garage these days have systems that over-eagerly mop up the most basic of driver mistakes – and it’s terrifying that, presumably, these features are attractive to the general populace who buy new cars.

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If you need lane-keep assist – a system that actively steers the car in its lane, even without cruise control – you shouldn’t have a driver’s licence. And why does Joe Bloggs continue to tell himself he’s a great driver but then proceeds to enjoy his time behind the wheel as an opportunity to exercise laziness and distraction?

I’m someone, probably much like yourself, who takes very seriously their responsibility to drive carefully, especially when sharing the road in close proximity with other people, and is constantly seeking to improve.

So it irks me I’m made to adhere to certain – not all – speed limits, designed to protect, from themselves, people who haven’t been taught how to drive a car properly from the start. And when people continue to crash even at these ambling speeds, I’m dismayed when the speed limit is further lowered.

If planes kept falling out of the sky and all deemed to be human error, would it just be flat-out ignored how pilots were being taught?