Major driver’s licence change introduced to make road users ‘more accountable’

In a nationwide first, the change comes following the 2019 death of teen Sophia Naismith, who was killed after she was hit by an out of control Lamborghini.

A person handing over a driver's licence with busy highway full of cars.
South Australian motorists driving an ultra high powered vehicle will now require a special licence and will undergo additional training. Source: Getty

Thousands of South Australians will now be required to undergo additional training to obtain their driver's licence in a nationwide first aimed at reducing the number of road incidents involving high-powered vehicles.

Last year, it was announced motorists driving certain vehicles, including some luxury cars, would be required to obtain a specific U-class licence, and now, from December, it will become mandatory. Drivers must also complete an interactive online course designed to educate drivers on the additional risks posed by high-powered vehicles.

The move, which will apply to any of the state's roughly 1.2 million registered drivers wanting to drive a high-powered vehicle, comes after the 2019 death of 15-year-old Sophia Naismith, who was killed after she was hit by an out of control Lamborghini. She and her friend were walking along the side of the road when the luxury car mounted the kerb.

The devastated Naismith family have campaigned for the law changes since her death, with the driver responsible walking free in 2022.

"The reforms won't bring Sophia back but it will make drivers more accountable for their anti-social behaviour and it will reduce some of the trauma of families navigating the legal system," Sophia's father, Luke Naismith said at the time.

According to South Australian road authorities, an ultra high powered vehicle (UHPV) is defined as any vehicle, other than a bus, motorbike or motor trike, with a gross vehicle mass of up to 4.5 tonnes, that has a power-to-weight ratio of 276 kilowatts per tonne or more.

Image shows South Australian teenager Sophia Naismith, 15, before she was killed when a luxury car mounted the kerb and hit her.
Sophia Naismith, 15, was killed when a luxury car mounted the kerb and hit her. Source: Instagram

According to the SA Attorney-General Kyam Maher, there are about 200 makes of vehicles covered by the law. The Lamborghini that hit Sophia would ultimately meet this criteria.

In a statement on Thursday, the state's Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Tom Koutsantonis said the state is "very proud to introduce the new requirements, which will better prepare motorists to drive ultra high powered vehicles on South Australian roads."

"Through practical modules focusing on vehicle features, safety systems, maintenance, laws and penalties, we’re compelling drivers to take responsibility and be aware of the additional risks that come with driving a UHPV," he continued.

"Given these risks, it’s crucial that we can influence driver behaviour but also ensure that our authorities are empowered to prosecute individuals who endanger the lives of others."

The country's road toll is an ongoing concern with authorities desperately warning drivers to remain vigilant on our roads. According to the Bureau of Infrastructure and Transport Research Economic (BITRE), 1,266 people tragically lost their lives on Australian roads in 2023, marking a 7.3 per cent increase from the 12-month period ending December 2022.

Early this year, it was suggested a special licence should be required for drivers towing recreational vehicles in Queensland following a rise in road-related accidents — an idea welcomed by road safety experts across the country.

Four lanes of traffic on Queensland highway.
There have been countless proposals for tougher rules on driver's licences to help reduce the death toll on Aussie roads.

Additionally, the Queensland state government has previously 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.

And last year, after the alleged hit and run that killed 18-year-old Charlie Stevens, son of South Australia's Police Commissioner Grant Stevens, there were once again calls to implement changes to Australia's diving licences with Russell White from the Australian Road Safety Foundation suggesting drivers should be rewarded for good behaviour — which might encourage more to do the right thing.

But Professor Andre Rakotonirainy, an expert in road safety, told Yahoo News Australia "there is no silver bullet in road safety" adding that "reacting to a particular crash is not the always best way to have a sustainable way to reduce road safety".

Peter Khoury from the NRMA previously suggested more education and more police enforcement is what's needed to help keep our roads safe.

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