A peak road safety body is calling on the New South Wales State Government to prohibit males from being issued with driver licences before they reach the age of 21 years.
The proposal by The Australasian College of Road Safety comes in the wake of a tragic one-car accident in Buxton in Sydney's south-west last week, which killed five passengers between the ages of 14 and 16 years.
The driver of the Nissan utility, who was the sole survivor, has been charged with five counts of dangerous driving occasioning death – he is just 18 years old.
As the community mourns, police continue their investigations into what caused the vehicle to leave the road and hit a tree with such force that the ute tore in half.
The police have confirmed that the driver returned a negative breath test at the scene, adding that the results of further blood and urine tests are yet to become available.
The young man has been remanded in custody after being refused bail both at the police station and in court.
Police strongly suspect that speed and erratic driving were contributing factors to the loss of control, as well as the fact the ute was carrying six people when it was only registered for four.
Driver's mobile phone footage
When the case came before Picton Local Court just days ago, the prosecutor submitted that police seized footage from the driver's phone which allegedly showed that just an hour before the crash, he was holding the device with one-hand while “purposely and aggressively” turning the wheel with the other as the vehicle swerved “violently”.
Police say there were only two male passengers in the vehicle at that time, who can be heard laughing and yelling with loud music playing in the background.
One of the passengers can allegedly be heard saying, “We're going to spin out cuz.”
The court was also told that the driver's provisional licence had previously been suspended twice for speeding offences.
Mobile phone laws
Under the law, all drivers are prohibited from handling mobile phones other than with an approve mount while driving – the exception being when the driver hands a phone to a passenger.
Learners and P1 licence holders cannot use a phone at all.
For P2 drivers and full licence holders, the penalty includes a fine of $362 – or $481 if detected in a school zone – and five demerit points (10 during double-demerit periods).
Should we ban males under 21 from driving?
In the meantime, The Australasian College of Road Safety is urging the state government to implement measures to protect road users, including a controversial proposal not to ban new licences from issued to males under the age of 21 years.
According to recent statistics produced by the College, drivers under the age of 25 account for almost 25% of crashes in NSW, despite only representing about 15% of all drivers in the state.
What the research says about young male drivers
The figures are supported by the National Road Safety Partnership Programme, which cites longer-term research which suggest that young men have higher rates of death from collisions than young women, even when the differences in the circumstances of the road crash are taken into account.
Indeed over the past decade, young Australian men have been involved in a greater number of road crashes than young women. Figures between 2007 and 2016 suggest that, on average, 5.1 women aged 17-25 died on our roads per 100,000 people. The average for young men is more than three times that, at 15.94.
Tightening the noose
In recent years, the licensing requirements and restrictions placed on Learner Drivers and P-platers have become quite severe – including 120 hours of driving, bans on P1 or red P-platers aged under 25 in NSW driving with more than one passenger under the age of 21 between the hours of 11pm and 5am, speed restrictions and bans on mobile phones and alcohol consumption – still young people die on our roads in alarming numbers.
So far this year, according to numbers from Transport NSW, almost three times as many young men have died on the roads this year (155) than women (48).
Psychologists and brain specialists suggest this might have less to do with ability to drive a car, or lack of experience on the road, but more to do with natural neurological responses.
While young people can start the process of getting their driver's licence at the age of 16 in NSW, and are recognised as adults by law at the age of 18, emerging brain research suggests that most people don't reach full brain maturity until about the age of 25.
While it makes sense to do all we can to ensure road safety for all road users, particularly our inexperienced drivers, the latest proposal is seen by most as unfairly discriminatory – advocating for a ban on many thousands of potential road users based solely on gender, in response to a number of highly-publicised incidents.
The proposal would also means that once reaching the age of 21 years, male drivers will still have no driving experience – entering the roads as novices and potentially remaining a ‘danger' to other road users when still young; which makes little sense to many.
NSW premier, Dominic Perrottet, has issued a statement that he is seeking advice on the issue, but says it's too soon to consider policy decisions.
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