8 July 2022

Crash tragedy should be spur for tougher approach to Canberra's hoons

| Ian Bushnell
Join the conversation
Matthew and Tom McLuckie

Matthew McLuckie with his father Tom, whose calls for reform deserve a hearing. Photo: ACT Policing.

Tom McLuckie isn’t about to let his son’s death be in vain.

Late on the night of 19 May, a speeding car travelling on the wrong side of Hindmarsh Drive killed 20-year-old Matthew McLuckie as he was driving home from work.

The alleged female driver of the other vehicle is still in hospital in critical condition and has not been charged. Police are also still looking for the driver of a third vehicle who fled the accident scene.

Since that night, Mr McLuckie has begun campaigning for a range of legal reforms which he believes would deter the kind of dangerous driving that took his son’s life.

He argues the ACT is soft, at least in comparison with nearby NSW, on motor vehicle crime, including speeding, street racing and hooning.

He wants mandatory minimum sentencing with no parole for serious motor vehicle crime and loss of licence, and impounding of motor vehicles for excessive speeding and other reckless driving.

He wants reckless drivers in the ACT to be afraid of the consequences.

READ MORE ‘Whole system is broken’: Tom McLuckie’s campaign for harsher road penalties following son’s death

Mr McLuckie also wants more police patrols so potential offenders don’t think they can exploit so-called “black zones” where they will be safe to break the law.

Many might say he is finding a way to channel his grief, but Mr McLuckie is calm and lucid talking about this, although the pain must be unbearable.

His calls for greater policing and tougher charges and penalties will also resonate with Canberrans who have experienced the hooning in their suburbs or on the outskirts of town, the near misses, or worry that their children will be victims of drivers in hotted-up cars who have no heed to the road rules that govern us all and aim to make using the road as safe as possible.

Crash scene

The crash scene on Hindmarsh Drive where 20-year-old Matthew McLuckie died. Photo: ACT Policing.

Police resourcing under the contract with the AFP is an ongoing issue for Canberra, especially with the latest census figures showing the city is growing more than expected.

The ACT Government remains under pressure from the Opposition and the AFP Association to secure more police so they can respond better to crime and safety in the ACT, particularly in Canberra’s growth areas.

Communities regularly complain that police are spread so thin that by the time they can respond to a complaint the offenders have fled or that a lack of presence allows opportunistic crime to flourish.

READ ALSO Does drug decriminalisation reduce harm – or do the exact opposite?

On the matter of motor vehicle crime, ACT Policing has devoted resources to cracking down on street racing and hooning, with more than 1100 criminal charges laid in the past two and a half years for serious driving offences.

But that tends to only reinforce Mr McLuckie’s point that the level of charges and penalties are not working and repeat offenders continue to thumb their noses at the law.

While police can seize vehicles for a time, the AFP Association supports impounding and crushing vehicles involved in dangerous driving incidents.

Mr McLuckie also believes that the legal system in the ACT is geared towards the human rights of the offenders rather than finding justice for victims and their families.

He mounts a powerful case for redressing this imbalance, and moving towards parity with NSW laws would be a start.

READ ALSO Case dropped against whistleblower Bernard Collaery

There should be scope within ACT law for police to lay charges that reflect the gravity of the crime and for courts to impose penalties that act as a deterrent and go some way to satisfying the needs of victims.

A government review of the legislation to identify gaps and weaknesses would be a proper response.

But Mr McLuckie’s calls for mandatory minimum sentencing with no parole for certain offences need to be treated with caution as they remove the discretion of judges, lead to overcrowded jails, and limit incentives for rehabilitation.

More police on the roads, a more vigorous use of what legal remedies are already available, and loss of vehicles and licences should be the first ports of call.

And while some might see education as a fruitless exercise, it should remain a visceral plank of the policy response to dangerous driving, as well as offenders having to confront the human consequences of their actions.

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments

It is a complicated issue and a proper clear-headed review is a good idea. I think seeing the perpetrators of injury gaoled is a kind of retribution/revenge and I wonder how much it helps the victims in the long run. I would add to the mix restorative or recompensatory rulings by the courts – requirement to pay directly towards the costs and injuries caused would achieve something at least for the victims especially those who end up on social welfare due to their injuries. It may also change behaviours (by those who are not psychopaths). If there are no victims, then confiscation of the vehicle is a start. I’m not so keen on crushing as a vehicle might have value to someone else – so sell it & prohibit perpetrator from bidding.

Seizing hoon vehicles and even crushing them might give victims some satisfaction, but if it is directed mainly at young/new drivers, they might see it as vindictive revenge and turn against the society that penalised them, stealing cars to take out their frustrations. (No lesson learnt). By all means, remove their vehicles from the road while they “pay” for their stupidity and are given some positive road-user education and mentoring; then to regain their vehicle, have it inspected and make an enforceable order for bolt-on, go-fast additions to be removed and the car restored to a safe condition with a full over-the-pits inspection before re-registration and a pre-registration inspection each year till they gain their full licence. If they re-offend by deliberate dangerous driving or car theft, let them press the button to watch their car destroyed.

I’m happy to go with crushing vehicles on seconfd offence, because we continually see reports of recidivist hoons … fair cop that they get a fine and impounding on firstoffence – even hoons deserve a chance to mend their ways

Hooning is born out of boredom, bravado and stupidity. Would having a facility where people could hoon in a safer environment help… probably. Can we stop stupid in the moment bravado decisions… no but blunt and confronting education will help. Would the likely hood of loosing your vehicle and prison time prevent hooning… for most people yes but not all. The best thing that I experienced as a learner driver in 1980’s was a presention by a professional driver and an emergency responder – it was graphic, relatable and it was practical. And I remember it like it was yesterday.

“Hooning is born out of boredom, bravado and stupidity.” You forgot to add: ” … and a reckless disregard for their personal safety and the safety of others.”

Education (even confronting education) is already happening via ads on tv. Alas, I suspect that today’s learners are unlikely to take advice from anyone about driving and the potential hazards.

While the likelihood of losing your vehicle and prison time may not prevent all hooning, I’m sure rather than impounding the vehicle, putting a few cars of offenders through “the crusher” might give pause to those remaining to consider the implication of their hooning.

The ACT’s roads are significantly safer than NSW’s without arbitrary performative laws that often impose penalties that are massively out of proportion with the offence.

‘Hoon laws’ contribute relatively little to safety because aside from only catching a small proportion of offenders even when heavily enforced like in Victoria most deaths and serious injuries are not caused by hooning. Their main purpose is vindictive satisfaction.

We actually put far less effort into trying to prevent the major causes – distractions and ‘mistakes’ (to which -lower- level speeding may sometimes be a factor) than into preventing hooning, and treat them far less seriously too.

A lot of places have adopted NSW type laws over the past decade, and there’s been the overall rise of Vision Zero ideology. Yet as a recent Lancet paper pointed out, road safety progress has slowed or even stalled many places.


Are you seriously defending ‘hooning’?

In what universe do you believe it’s OK for two ‘hoons’ to have their own street race up Hindmarsh drive – one on the wrong side of the divided road, that leads to the death of an innocent young man, because he was on his way home from work and happened to be in the wrong place. So do we accept his death as an exception because “most deaths and serious injuries are not caused by hooning”?

If the woman who allegedly killed Matthew McLuckie is convicted, I hope she gets a very long prison sentence, even if it is “vindictive satisfaction”. Let’s also hopeher accomplice in the crime is identified and similarly charged.

There’s a big difference between someone in a vehicle causing a death or serious injury, because they make a mistake or have a conentration failure, and a conceited ignoramus who just wants to use a suburban street/road as their very own race track.

“The ACT’s roads are significantly safer than NSW’s …” – no road in the world is safe if there are morons who show a complete disregard for the rule of law and the safety of others.

Here’s an alternative.

Instead of introducing what you describe as ‘arbitrary performative laws’ to discourage dangerous driving, why don’t we lay presumptive manslaughter (or even murder in the right circumstances) charges against motorists whose driving results in the death of another human being?

Why do we treat homicide by motor vehicle differently and somehow lesser?

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.