australian road users (and our fraudulent government)

riotdave 2 December 2008 47

g’day rioters!

perhaps some of you heard of this horrific story in The Age from a little while back that re-emerged today as it appeared in court this morning:

now, don’t get me wrong, i have nothing but sympathy for all parties involved in this tragedy; this is not my beef. instead this story and the media response has sparked my frustration again with our shameful government(s) and their pathetic road policies. below lies a somewhat drawn-out story but i felt compelled to register and post it. you know where the little red “X” is if you get bored 🙂

i wish you to consider how we equip our new drivers with car-handling skills. some of you may be aware of “road ready” ( a now nation-wide program that is supposed to help make L-platers safe drivers. now while this is certainly a step in the right direction, it is seen as more of a pain in the backside by l-plate-seekers and literally, the ONLY thing i could remember from when i took the course myself a few years back was the unbelievably cute blondie that shared my boredom/pain. so thats all well and good then – we ask a bunch of easily forgotten questions to people that don’t really care to know, and then we send them on their merry way into the public streets for 9 months! cool! next challenge is the L to P-plate process.

the procedures to getting your P’s are slightly different from state to state, but in canberra at least, there are two avenues. you can take the ‘big/final’ driving test or you can do whats known as ‘logbook’. the first is self explanatory really, whereby you focus as much chi as possible to impress some stiff with a clipboard (over the course of about 10-15 mins) enough for him/her to decide that you are ‘safe’. the other is where you pay through the nose for a “qualified driving instructor” to take you through a logbook of competencies over a series of 6+ hands-on, in-car lessons.

now before i continue, i’d like to explain a little about myself. i am in the “most hazardous/irresponsible” bracket as i am an under 25 y/o male with a history of numerous very fast/modified cars. i chose to take the logbook method to my P-plates as i managed to find what could’ve been THE ULTIMATE driving instructor – a touring car driver/racer who finances his racecar with driving tuition. what made this (anon) man different was that after one and a half logbook lessons and many chats about cars and racing and what have you, he could see that the lessons he was giving me were just not really effective. instead, he took whole mornings out of his schedule and booked the both of us in at the skidpan just out of qbn at fairburn park.

we had two such meetings out there – the first one was spent swapping between passenger/driver as he taught me how to emergency brake, in the wet and in the dry. by the end of the first session, i felt comfortable in slowing a sliding/out of control car in an effective manner. the second session was spent helping me understand the REAL concepts behind speed, car stability, smoothness, weight distribution, grip and most importantly, tricks to remaining calm. i now had an understanding of -why- people get into trouble in the first place. one more regular logbook lesson to confirm that i could reverse parallel, and he checked me off.

three weeks after getting my p-plates i had myself booked in, at my own expense, with a AAMI-approved defensive drivers course. i have completed another two advanced driver training days and attended a few race days since, to develop and hone my own skills and competencies further.

now, while i am admittedly a massive car enthusiast and i take pride in the quality, maturity and courtesy! of my driving at all times, most people would not have the opportunity nor the care/time/will to repeat my course of action. thats fine, each to their own but i am absolutely flabbergasted at how our outdated and inappropriate laws remain. i heard that something like 65% of people who sit the driving test fail because they cannot reverse parallel. WHAT!!!! why aren’t we failing people for not knowing the difference between a brake and accelerator pedal!!??!! (referencing the aforementioned article with all due respect). why isn’t every new driver expected to partake in a defensive driving course? i would’ve predicted the moderate cost to the government/taxpayer/fresh L/P-plater would be massively outweighed by the much-needed emergency abilities we would be equipping our new road users. we expect new drivers to dig into the peanuts for the needless ‘road ready’ course yet surely it isn’t so hard to see which one would offer a more substantial return on investment.

so it seems the washup from todays media coverage is that the government is looking to introduce stricter penalties and restrictions for learner and full-licence-bearing guardian/passenger. this is quite simply a hoax – another revenue-raising stunt, just like the additional p-plate laws/restrictions. in fact this shonky revenue-raising behavior can be found in every aspect of our current road laws, from parking inspectors to speed cams to dodgy cops, but they are other riots for other days

when will the government stop dicking around with band-aid solutions, and take even but a brief glance at the cause? how many people (kamikaze’s!) do we have to let loose with zero skills before someone stands up and says, “hang on, just cos you can reverse parallel, don’t mean you can drive!!!”


much love

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47 Responses to australian road users (and our fraudulent government)
GB GB 7:00 pm 06 Dec 08

Hi riotdave, good to have you back. And congrats on reading and digesting this extensive group essay in one go!

The alarming – but well-proven – thing is that regardless of the emotional atmosphere of advanced driver-training, the end result among young men is an increase in confidence that is not matched by any increase in skill; and attitudes are barely affected. This is not belief, its measured results.

Part of the reason we have so much evidence that it doesn’t work is that, because this information is so counter-intuitive, governments and well-meaning charities and schools just keep trying it. And it keeps not working.

So, they are not naysayers who say this. They are people who believed in the idea, have repeatedly tested the idea, and the evidence they got is overwhelming: it does increase confidence, it does not increase skill enough to compensate.

More accidents result.

G-Fresh G-Fresh 6:16 pm 06 Dec 08

cbf reading 11,000 words

riotdave riotdave 3:23 pm 06 Dec 08

wow i’m thrilled! just a couple of days after my OP and i return to find so many interesting and constructive comments! what a community i didn’t expect this response! 😀

i did not venture far into the immensely complex topic but a root of the problem has been identified – the mental stance of the person behind the wheel. i’m sure we are all intuitively aware of how our state of mind is one of, if not the most important aspects, yet this is one we are often not in control of when we are driving. we all have moments of absent mindedness, drowsiness, confusion, carelessness, lazyness etc – this is part and parcel of being alive and kicking and a function of being a roaduser. in re-reading my original post, i must retract the statement whereby i referred to the Deng case and the driver not knowing the difference between the accell/brake. obviously i referenced that figuratively – the poor driver in that accident clearly knew the difference – it was a brain panic/bandwidth issue indeed as clueless70 has pointed out.

it is clear that there is a strong focus towards education from our government – the television campaigns are excellent, for example, as i think the message gets lodged into peoples ‘banks and serves as a gentle reminder as to what can go wrong, but this is not sufficient. the focus is not nearly broad enough and while it is imperative that we educate the mind first and foremost, the fact still remains that we are ill-equipping new drivers with -actual- skills.

i have to disagree with the naysayers out there that say it is folly to send the reckless male youth to advanced driving schools as it just reinforces their ‘invincibility’. lets face it, if a young dumb bloke with a head full of testosterone wants to speed, he WILL speed, irrespective of whether he has attended an advanced driving class or not. between ‘idiot A’, who has completed some extra driving tuition, and ‘idiot B’ who is just ‘winging it’, it should be pretty clear which idiot is likely to survive given a nasty out-of-control situation, even if it was caused through stupidity/recklessness. it is this mentality that driving courses ‘teach young people to be hoons’ that frustrates me so much! the mood and layout of these days couldn’t be further from an ‘egging on’ – they are very serious about what they teach and make you REALLY aware of the fact that you are in a 1-2tonne metal box that can and will hurt/mame/kill if mistreated. that is the whole purpose of these courses- to raise awareness of the road and what cars can do and not to help jnr be the next schuey or senna. thats the fundamental difference between RACE training and defensive driving.

it would be interesting to survey new road users to see if they would be prepared to partake in some advanced driving tuition if it were compulsory. my bet is that the vast consensus would be a resounding ‘bring it on!’. hoon or not, young drivers DO actually want to be safe, but our system is not accomodating here.


GB GB 2:37 pm 03 Dec 08

harvyk1 said :

The problem is that “this problem” has so many variables, that to look at just one, like gov’t do with the P-Plate scapegoats is that they don’t look for the underlying causes.

Well, governments may do and say weird things, but people on the ground doing the research and making the recommendations are certainly not looking at just one variable. Over the last 15 years, there has been an enormous amount of research on causes of car accidents and deaths. Its not a matter of saying “its P-platers fault” — rather, figuring out what, if anything, we can do about it.

I don’t think its young men’s ‘fault’ that they are over-endowed with testosterone and a culture of recklessness; nevertheless this is a major cause of death for us. So, trying to find a way to reduce that means looking at those young men and seeing what we can change. The overwhelming evidence is that skills training has little or negative effects; better or newer vehicles has a marginal effect on accidents but a significant effect on deaths; and that most training schemes do not significantly affect attitudes.

For older drivers, I reckon Sgt Bungers is pretty much on the money: just read through the threads here about “other people’s driving” and its easy to see that it is our attitudes, individually and collectively, that need to change. Better cars, better roads, better licensing, and better testing will help; but are not the real problem.

And sadly, the death-causing attitudes are much more prevalent among young people.

GB GB 2:25 pm 03 Dec 08

harvyk1 said :

…Therefore if the part of the population most likely to drive an older car is the under 25’s, and as the population whom drives olders car more likely to have an accident, this reports proves exactly what I have said.

Well, sort of. The part of the population likely to drive seriously older cars (like in this report) is actually 55+. This report (from 2000) was talking about 22-year-old cars — a tiny proportion of vehicles on the road. There is not a linear relationship with more recent cars — it seems to be mostly about the big changes in vehicle design standards around then.

The statistics about younger people (16-25) having more accidents per km driven still holds true around the world when corrected for age of vehicle, vehicle condition, and many other factors. And its even more extreme when you look at the youngest group, 16-19.

Also, it holds true in countries where the national car fleet is varied in age (like Australia); as well those where it is very new (eg Japan).

Simplest evidence: younger drivers of brand new cars have a significantly higher rate of accidents per km driven than older drivers of brand new cars.

harvyk1 harvyk1 1:40 pm 03 Dec 08

That is true cranky. I don’t know to many people with brand new cars who don’t have them registered.

The problem is that “this problem” has so many variables, that to look at just one, like gov’t do with the P-Plate scapegoats is that they don’t look for the underlying causes. This means that we end up with band-aid solution on top of band-aid solution.

Am I sticking up for the P-Plate drivers – Well yes and no, the reasons why they are over-represented in accident statistics may not be 100% their fault. But the law makers find it easier to say it is their fault, than actually fix the problem.

Of course there will always be the one or two whom should have tattooed across the forehead “Banned from driving for life”. But you see that in just about any age group. It’s not something unique to any one demographic.

cranky cranky 10:04 am 03 Dec 08

It has been noted recently in the Police roundups that the unlicensed, unregistered and uninsured of the world make up a disproportionately large number of accident participants.

It is not too far a stretch to apply poverty and antisocial behaviour as contributing factors in the the lack of compliance with road user requirements. Factors perhaps applying to a higher proportion of younger drivers.

These same factors mitigate against these individuals owning modern vehicles.

Ergo, older vehicles are very probably over represented in road accident statistics.

VYBerlinaV8_the_one_they_all_copy VYBerlinaV8_the_one_they_all_copy 9:07 am 03 Dec 08

A couple of things to consider:
1) Will the statistics change as P platers start getting cars equipped with ABS, better handling, etc, given that many cars 10 years old now have some some variant of these features.
2) Speed limits still seem to be seen as a guide by most Australians (except around speed cameras). Yesterday I was driving along Hindmarsh drive over the hill with a group of cars, all of whom were sitting on about 90km/h, including a marked police car. Everyone was leaving plenty of room, and cruising along sensibly. Perhaps we need more focus on stupidity?

ant ant 9:03 am 03 Dec 08

The reason younger people have more crashes is not because they drive older cars, but because of their attitudes to driving, and other road users. Lack of experience and skill also plays a big part in this.

It doesn’t help that, when they have their first lesson with their parent, they are told “every other driver on the road is an idiot”. Great start to learning how to share the road with courtesy. No wonder so few people know how to do this.

harvyk1 harvyk1 7:56 am 03 Dec 08

Thanks GB, yes, what the report has said is exactly the point I am making, drivers of older cars are at higher odds of been involved in a car accident. This holds true no matter what the age of the person. However a young driver is more likely to drive an older car. (I don’t know to many 18 year olds who have between 20 – 40K sitting around to buy a new car with). Therefore if the part of the population most likely to drive an older car is the under 25’s, and as the population whom drives olders car more likely to have an accident, this reports proves exactly what I have said.

farnarkler farnarkler 7:30 am 03 Dec 08

You can do a hundred different driving courses and even win the F1 world championship but if you’re going to be a menace on a public road then you should have the book thrown at you. It’s like when you reach 18 and all you want to do is go out and get blind drunk and know that you can do it legally (well that’s what we did back in the late 80’s!!). After a few big sessions on the bottle you hopefully wise up.

Young drivers are the same. They (not all of course, just the losers) get the bit of plastic which allows them on the road with the rest of us and think that they can get within a metre of the car in front on the Tuggeranong Parkway or do 120 on Adelaide Avenue. I’d like to do 120 on Adelaide Avenue but it’s against the law so I don’t.

The harsher the punishments the better. 40 years ago a drink driver would get a slap on the wrist and told to drive carefully. 16 years ago, when I got done DUI,I got a suspension and a fine. I took my punishment and didn’t whinge about how if it’d been the 70’s I wouldn’t have even had to go to court.

GB GB 11:02 pm 02 Dec 08

harvyk1 said :

I would like to see a set of statistics plotting out not only the age of the driver in accidents, but also the age and type of car.

You might have to do your own literature search, but here is a start. Page 29:

“In conclusion, the odds ratio of 2.5 for driving a pre-1978 vehicle did not drop when adjusted
for a number of driver factors which were considered possible confounders. Therefore the
increase in risk in driving cars of this age appears to be a real effect, not something reflecting
the drivers or the areas in which these vehicles are driven. “

clueless70 clueless70 10:02 pm 02 Dec 08

Dave, it seems you reference the article with respect but not much accuracy. I don’t see any mention in the article that the Deng case will lead to changes in NSW driving laws, though it might affect the driving rights of people ‘who have avoided charges under the Mental Health Act.’ The competence of driving instructors is also mentioned as something the inquest will consider.

I also take issue with your comment about people ‘not knowing’ the difference between an accelerator and a brake pedal. Knowing, or not knowing how to operate a car is not the whole issue in a car accident. Rational thinking has a limited bandwidth, and stress from being tired, fearful or whatever, blocks large portions of this out. I think what happened to Deng was that she suffered cognitive overload while in control of a moving car. That is, stress made her momentarily stupid. I work with young Sudanese people who have come to Australia as refugees, and the experiences they bring to driving, schooling and holding down jobs are usually traumatic. Trauma affects the nervous system and influences judgments, expectations and self-confidence. Interesting it would be to know what other mental processes were running in Deng’s mind at the moment of the accident.

A recently published thinker, Nicholas Taleb, put the rationality bandwidth problem well, I think: he says in his slightly cranky but insightful book _The Black Swan_ that ‘we don’t have the psychic energy to be sceptical 100 percent of the time.’ You could describe the vigilant, alert and doubting mental state of the skilled defensive driver as a form of scepticism, particularly regarding the attentiveness and likely skills of drivers around him or her. Well done to anyone who can hold that state of mind for 100 percent of their time on the road. A medal if you can do it as a war refugee, or as a young adult with limited experience managing emotions or anything else besides the mechanical controls of a vehicle. I think we ought to worry not about imperfect driver training, but that we share the roads, on any given day, with some intensely unhappy and/or immature people.

Two driving incidents from the days before I was exiled from Canberra might illustrate this heavily psychological element in the causes of crashes. Both occurred when I was a senior high school student. I stood one morning waiting for the school bus, having recently lost my bike to a thief. I loved that bike and knew a lot about its functioning, but one day I left it unlocked while rushing to get to Erindale library before it closed, in a state of fear that I would not finish an assignment without access to a certain book. As I waited, a small, loud, shiny purple Ford Escort roared to a stop beside me. Its driver was G, a stand-offish footballer from my grade who I knew only slightly. To my amazement he offered me a lift to school. I got into the purple Ford Escort. A lift to school by Learjet might have been slightly quicker. G accelerated his little car with incredible viciousness, took each corner on two wheels and injured my spleen on braking at red lights. Personal honour – apart from sheer amazement – required that I said nothing while we were under way and got out, dabbing my sweaty upper lip with a shirt cuff, giving no more than a murmured acknowledgement of this personal service. At least all he could do then was scream off in a haze of tire smoke. I now see that journey as a cryptic form of come-on, or perhaps actual lovemaking by G, who was rumoured to be a jazz ballet performer as well as a footballer. What mattered to him at that time and in his stage of development as a sceptic was how impressed I would be by the power of his Ford Escort and by extension of G himself, not our own or the travelling public’s safety.

The second incident is simply that T, another classmate at that time, used to talk in half-proud, half-abject tones of how he would, very late at night, race his utility vehicle at large eucalypts that stood whitely in the glare of the headlights at the termini of long straightways on the Southern Tablelands, deliberately toying with the possibility of his disappearing in a car-sized holocaust of crushed sheet metal and exploding fuel. T was a troubled person who had lost a family member to murderous violence when he was a young child, and it was clear then, as now, that there was a link between the suicide-courting behaviour and the early experience. Difficult, reflecting on all this, to decide which is the more alarming: the prospect these stories gave of the impending violent death of a friend, or the cognitive distortions at work in the mind of someone who could discount entirely the danger his four-wheeled self-dramatisation represented to anyone on the road around him.

In my own driving experience I have had at least one minor accident where I am quite sure a depressed and exhausted mental state seriously eroded my reaction time and powers of attention. Suicidal ideation and the urge to seduce my passengers are not part of my driving style – but who knows their part in the roadcraft of other folk out there? If I was to design a driving skills training course, a lot of it would be concerned with cutting down the psychological risk factors: fatigue, overconfidence, inductive errors, powerful emotional states, and less-than-complete scepticism about the abilities and motivations of other drivers.

harvyk1 harvyk1 8:57 pm 02 Dec 08

Holden Caulfield, I’ve had two uncontrolled slides in my life, the first was out on the road, I was being an idiot (to fast in the wet going around a round-a-bout, lucky all that was damaged was my pride and needed a replacement back wheel).

The second time was at an advance driver training day, it was not my intention to lose control, but the instructor asked me to do a very sharp right hand turn and I was expecting the car to slide forwards, instead it gripped, hit the dirt and the back swung out. (I had better grip on the road than I was expecting).

The result is however I’ve never had an accident since, maybe luck, maybe skill (I know Mother Nature has sent a few kamikaze kangaroos my way which I’ve avoided, but mostly because I knew what my car would do under heavy braking and steering).

Something which needs to also be analyzed is yes there are statistics showing young P-Platers are the most dangerous on the road. Now when I was a P-Plater, the average car I drove cost sub $3000. It didn’t have good steering, brakes or handling, and I was inexperienced. Compare that with now, where I own two brand new cars, each with excellent steering, brakes and handling, and I have many years driving experience under my belt.

I would like to see a set of statistics plotting out not only the age of the driver in accidents, but also the age and type of car. I expect you’ll find that age and maintenance record of the car is at least half the fault of accidents, and I’d even go as far as saying it plays a bigger part than age. Bar the average hoon (I hate that word, it has so many definitions including how the copper is feeling on the day) of course

Holden Caulfield Holden Caulfield 7:05 pm 02 Dec 08

Mr_Shab said :

I stand by some of my comments. Guess which ones.

Shab I was with you all the way until “removing anyone with an ‘interest’ in cars from the road”. You were making good sense until then.

As for Woody, well, probably best to leave you in your cocoon of ignorance. Again, I’ll acknowledge you make some good points, but too easily undone by accompanying simplistic and blinkered views of what makes a good/safe driver. The first line in your response gave it away. Methinks your version of driver training and continual improvement is a 30 second RTA advertisement.

Moreover, where has anyone in this thread who is advocating driver training said that they have been in an uncontrolled slide on a public road? From what I’ve read people have been recommending controlled and supervised driver training, in which a skin pan can play a part, so that after undertaking such training one is better prepared should the unexpected happen on the public road.

I’m also pretty sure the techniques you describe, such as scanning the road ahead, would be practiced by the same people you are criticising, not in the least because such points are normally raised during driver training.

I suggest you open your mind to the possibilities of unexpected incidents occurring on the road. Sure, you may use scanning techniques and anticipation, like any half decent driver should, to lessen the risk of you having an accident, but to suggest so boldly that “there are no accidents” is as foolish as it is naive.

Doctor Evil Doctor Evil 5:25 pm 02 Dec 08

Woody Mann-Caruso said :

Head buried in the sand much there Woody? Ever had a pet run on the road in front of you? Ever had a kangaroo jump out in front of you at dusk? Ever driven in Fyshwick?!

All of the above. Fortunately, I drive the speed limit and focus on my surroundings, so none of these things had seen me trying to keep calm through an uncontrolled slide. I just slow down or bring the vehicle to a controlled stop.

Other times they can be inflicted upon you without warning, regardless of how self-righteous your driving may be

There are no accidents. There are only crashes. If there was no warning, you weren’t scanning enough, or you were rear-ended. Sliding has nothing to do with either, and everything to do with driving too quickly for the conditions and not checking the tread on your tyres.


GB GB 5:13 pm 02 Dec 08

mdme workalot said :

..Maybe the reason accident stats are higher when looking at those who have done driver training courses is because typically, the type of people who do those courses are risk-takers on the roads? …

Certainly a possibility, and one that has been tested many times. Eg:

“A large scale study of both the theoretical and practical driver training for novice drivers in
Norway found no significant difference between the violation/accident records of those who
were trained and a matched control group who did not complete the training (Glad, 1988).
The study also found a significant increase in skid-related accident involvement among
young males who had completed the training course relative to the control group. It was
speculated that the training increased the confidence of trainees beyond their actual level of
driving competence – a common finding of such research (Christie, 1996; Gregersen, 1996).”

And there are exceptions:

“… a night-driving training component did lead to significantly reduced post-licence
crash levels at night for novice drivers (Glad, 1988; Lynam, 1995). “

Really, the evidence does seem to be overwhelming when you churn through all the things that have been tried, measured, and found wanting.

Back on the original poster’s point about poor testing: there is considerable evidence that performance on initial theory tests is predictive of low crash rates. So, the training that goes on before these may be important; or it may that poor performance on the tests reflects an attitudinal issue that then shows up as crashes later.

Many people in the field are now looking at other ways to reduce accidents, and especially fatalities — beyond the “training and testing” idea. Things like later age of licensing, graduated licensing, extended supervised experience, and control of exposure to risk (eg lower speed limits, curfews, vehicle occupancy levels).

While these are an annoying curtailment of civil liberties for young drivers, they at least can be shown to work.

Mr_Shab Mr_Shab 5:04 pm 02 Dec 08

I stand by some of my comments. Guess which ones.

Woody Mann-Caruso Woody Mann-Caruso 5:04 pm 02 Dec 08

Head buried in the sand much there Woody? Ever had a pet run on the road in front of you? Ever had a kangaroo jump out in front of you at dusk? Ever driven in Fyshwick?!

All of the above. Fortunately, I drive the speed limit and focus on my surroundings, so none of these things had seen me trying to keep calm through an uncontrolled slide. I just slow down or bring the vehicle to a controlled stop.

Other times they can be inflicted upon you without warning, regardless of how self-righteous your driving may be

There are no accidents. There are only crashes. If there was no warning, you weren’t scanning enough, or you were rear-ended. Sliding has nothing to do with either, and everything to do with driving too quickly for the conditions and not checking the tread on your tyres.

Holden Caulfield Holden Caulfield 4:57 pm 02 Dec 08

Oh dear.

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