07 January 2018

Victorian Government must urgently address international driver safety

Over the past week, I have been contacted by many people residing in the Corangamite electorate and around Australia with alarming stories of dangerous driving by international drivers. 

This is a serious issue. Over the past two years, more than 20 per cent of road accidents on the Great Ocean Road have involved international drivers.  

There have been many other terrible accidents involving international drivers on popular inland tourist routes to the Great Ocean Road. A number of people have died and many others have been seriously injured.   These involve not just tourists but visitors on other temporary visas such as student or work visas who are entitled to drive on Australian roads without any testing or verification of driver skills.

While international drivers do not account for a large percentage of road accidents, every single life on our road matters.

I am disappointed that the Colac Herald (editorial, 5 January 2018) has labelled my efforts to advocate for improved driver safety as xenophobic. This claim is nonsense.

 

I have been a very prominent champion of tourism and the Great Ocean Road for many years.  But we must do everything possible to ensure that every single person is safe on our roads including the magnificent Great Ocean Road.  Imagine the damage to our tourism industry if we did not take the appropriate action to ensure international tourists were safe on our roads.

I will continue to hold governments and the likes of vehicle hire companies to account for allowing people to drive on our roads who don’t have the requisite skills or knowledge.

I am very proud of the Turnbull government’s $50 million investment Great ocean Road safety upgrades for which I fought so hard. Our government is also investing $5 million in safety upgrades for the Forrest Apollo Bay Road.

But I will tell it how it is.  Whether it be driving on the wrong side of the road, driving through stop signs, dangerous parking, stopping in the middle of the road to take photographs, driving too slowly, not using turnout lanes or crossing double lines, too many international drivers on the Great Ocean Road and in other parts of the country are putting themselves and others at risk.

The Great Ocean Road is a magnificent, iconic road but is challenging to drive. On sections or the road which are high above the ocean and built into a sheer cliff face, there is no room for error.

When international drivers don’t have the skills or knowledge of road laws to drive on Australian roads, they can be a moving time bomb.

As I have made clear, my concerns are not limited to international tourists.  In Victoria, any foreigner on a temporary visa, including a work or student visa, can drive on their country of origin driver’s licence for the duration of the visa providing it’s in English or has an English translation.  Even permanent residents don’t have to apply for an Australian licence for six months.

The states, which have constitutional responsibility for driver licensing, are not doing enough to ensure that international drivers have the requisite skills and knowledge of our road laws.

I have personally met fully licensed international visitors to Corangamite who have only driven a car a few times and have no capacity to drive on Australian roads.

For more than two years I have called on the Victorian Government to take strong action on this issue.

On 26 March 2016, I wrote to the Roads Minister stating:

“Minister this is a very serious issue. There have been many accidents and some fatalities. After community meetings in Lorne, Wye River, Forrest and Apollo Bay, I cannot stress how important it is that the Victorian Government take comprehensive action to deal with the conduct of international drivers on the Great Ocean Road – arrows on roads, better signage including in Chinese, hire car signage, better education.”

The Minister replied on 13 April 2016, stating that:

“…the current focus is to remind drivers to use the correct side of the road when travelling. In addition to signs and line-marking, VicRoads is also investigating other initiatives such as consulting with vehicle hire companies to encourage them to participate in distributing information to their international customers”

While the Victorian Government  has now announced the Visiting Driver Road Safety Program, this does not go far enough. In my view, the conditions on which foreigners on temporary visas can drive on Victorian roads are too lax and should be reviewed.

The Great Ocean Road must include comprehensive safety information for international drivers including improved signage and vehicle hire companies must be required, as a matter of law, to provide educational materials in their vehicles including ‘keep left’ stickers on the dashboard.  I would like to see Qantas get involved in this issue such as by screening a safety video on incoming international flights.  I also believe that international drivers travelling to the Great Ocean Road should be required to demonstrate they have the requisite skills and driver knowledge such as by way of an online test.

7 January 2018