As the families of four boys killed in a car crash near Byron Bay mark 10 years since the boys’ deaths, figures show the annual road toll for young drivers is steadily declining.
Saturday marks a decade since a single-vehicle accident near Byron Bay killed 17-year-olds Bryce Wells and Mitchell Eveleigh, and 16-year-olds Corey New and Paul Morris.
The 17-year-old driver escaped with minor injuries and was later sentenced to four years jail with a non-parole period of two years.
Figures from the Centre for Road Safety NSW show a steady reduction in road deaths of people aged 17-25 over the past 15 years, but particularly since P-plate legislation changes in 2007.
Executive director Bernard Carlon said the 2006 accident had been the impetus for the changes.
They included that drivers under 25 were no longer allowed more than one passenger between 11pm and 5am, a zero tolerance of speeding, and the introduction of 120 hours of supervised driving for learners.
“This crash that happened on the north coast, like many crashes that kill young people, really struck at the heart of the community,” Mr Carlon said.
“I think that in this instance it was the catalyst for a whole lot of changes and re-focus again on trying to reduce the risks for young people on our roads.”
The centre’s figures show 92 young people were killed on NSW roads in 2000, while in 2006 there were 97 killed, with 37 in 2015. The annual average since 2007 is 46.
Mr Carlon said the centre’s research showed the introduction of the 120 supervised driving hours for learners had had the biggest impact.
“As difficult as that is for families, I have a daughter who is currently on her Ls and now a son who got his Ls two weeks ago, I understand the challenge personally for getting those hours up for 120 hours of experience,” Mr Carlon said.
“What we’ve seen is actually the supervised time behind the wheel where an adult is supervising a driver has made the biggest difference.
“You get vehicle control skills in that first 50 hours, but beyond that you get more experience in adapting to road environments, different speeds, driving at night, and the hazards that happen on the road while still being supervised by a licensed driver.
“Our view is from all the research, that’s had the biggest impact on having young drivers ready to drive a vehicle on their red Ps.”
Campaigning For Change
Rob Wells, the father of Bryce, took up the fight to protect young drivers just weeks after losing his son.
“I thought ‘This isn’t good enough, we’re going to have to do something about this’, so I put a callout to meet with the roads minister,” Mr Wells said.
“I was putting my case up asking why are we letting these 17-year-olds get into these situations?
“Us as a society are letting them down.
“Legally, they can’t drink until they’re 18, they can’t vote until they’re 18, they won’t send them to war until they’re 18, but they’ll let them drive a motor vehicle and be in charge of a tonne of metal that’s capable of killing and maiming, and we’re letting them do it.”
Mr Wells was appointed to the Government’s Young Driver’s Advisory Panel that had been considering further restrictions to P-plate laws after a series of changes in 2000.
“They were what they called an ‘expert panel’ and I walked into the room and I said, ‘Right, how many people in this room have lost a child in a car crash?’” Mr Wells said.
“None of them put their hands up and I said ‘Well, I’m the only expert in this room’.”
Mr Wells said he was pleased to see the result of the P-plate legislation changes, but he would not rest until a driver education facility was built in Lismore.
A charity started by the parents of the four boys killed in 2006, known as Southern Cross Lads, has purchased a site for the facility and is now fundraising to cover the costs of construction.
“Possibly I’ll stay with it for two years after we get it up and running, then I’ll hand it over to the community,” Mr Wells said.
“I can walk away then knowing that I’ve achieved what I set out to do, and that is to give the community a resource that’s going to stay in the community and that the community owns.”
Source: ABC News