Controversial driving licence proposal in wake of latest tragedy

The proposal is a response to the rising death toll in Australia.

There are new calls to implement changes to Australia's driving licences in a desperate bid to curb the rising death toll on our roads following the alleged hit and run that killed 18-year-old Charlie Stevens, son of South Australia's Police Commissioner Grant Stevens.

Stevens, 18, sustained an irreversible brain injury after being run down about 9pm on Friday in Goolwa, about 90km southeast of Adelaide while celebrating Schoolies. But implementing new restrictions are not the answer, road safety experts told Yahoo News Australia.

Appearing on The Project on Tuesday night, Russell White, from the Australian Road Safety Foundation, suggested a change to the current licensing system in Australia.

"We've got a system [that's] based on the premise that getting the licence is the end of the learning process and it is not, it is just the beginning," he told the program. There also "needs to be an increase in the level of visible police cars actually enforcing the law," he said.

Charlie Stevens (left) his father Grant Stevens (right)
Charlie Stevens (left) died after being hit in an alleged hit-and-run. His father Grant Stevens (right). Source: AAP

But more than that, he said we need to look at not only how we're penalising drivers but perhaps rewarding drivers who are doing the right thing. This could mean a tax deduction for zero demerit points, a reduction on fuel or a reduction on tolls "so that a clean licence actually has a financial value as well as the points value as well".

"I think if we built a bit of pride around the licence, a bit of extra value around it, that might facilitate a cultural change," White argued.

'No silver bullet in road safety'

But it's a "complex problem which is not easy to solve," Professor Andre Rakotonirainy, an expert in road safety, told Yahoo News Australia, "There is no silver bullet in road safety". Often, proposals, such as this are "made in haste" following another devastating crash, Rakotonirainy said, and "reacting to a particular crash is not the best way to have a sustainable way to reduce road safety".

Russell White, from the Australian Road Safety Foundation
Russell White, from the Australian Road Safety Foundation, proposed changes to Australian licences on The Project. Source: The Project

Instead, Rakotonirainy says we have to have a "systematic view" and "take time to actually design a particular type of intervention"

"If we really want to have drastic intervention in road safety, we can always just stop all the cars, but that's not sustainable. So it's really a balance of how to make those measures acceptable and provide benefits to road safety."

Why existing road safety proposals won't work

It's not the first proposal aimed at reducing the number of deaths on Aussie roads. In April, the Queensland state government suggested a "refresher course" for motorists when renewing their licences which could include a test, a video, or an information booklet or a range of questions" that cover recent road rules and any changes.

cars on road
There are calls to introduce new road safety messages to help curb the road toll. Source: Getty

Meanwhile in July, South Australia introduced a law which requires motorists driving a high-powered vehicle to go through training after the 2019 death of 15-year-old Sophia Naismith, who was killed after she was hit by an out of control Lamborghini

And in NSW, safe drivers who have incurred demerit points for infringements such as speeding will see a demerit point wiped from their record if they go 12 months without racking up any more fines. It's also been suggested that young male drivers should be banned from getting their licence until the age of 21.

Such a proposal "would have lots of very serious social implications," Rakotonirainy said. "In terms of fairness, we are actually forbidding our youngsters to have the right to have a car and to be mobile".

Peter Khourey from the NRMA agrees, adding "changes need to be evidence-based". "We need to stick to the things that we know work," he said including more education and more police enforcement.

"We already have a pretty stringent graduated licensing scheme that targets young people and it is particularly focused on giving them a broad depth of experience in driving and in learning how to drive and become better drivers. But there are also a whole bunch of restrictions that are introduced to reduce risk," he said. "The overwhelming majority of young drivers do the right thing".

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