I rise to speak on the Road Safety Amendment Bill 2015. This is an important bill on a topic that enjoys bipartisan support. That is evident from the comments that have been made by a number of speakers in this chamber this morning. It is all about making our roads safer.
The bill will strengthen Victoria’s road laws and make the roads safer. Before I go into the specifics I would like to take a moment to highlight why this bill is so important and represents such an important step in making our roads safer. I will start by referring back to the 1970s.
In 1970 the road toll was 1061. That is an incredible number of people who lost their lives. It is the equivalent of 30 deaths per 100 000 people in our state. It represents literally thousands of families torn apart with grief at the sudden death of a loved one. Over the intervening 45 years Victoria has become a world leader in reducing the road toll. It has done this by having a shared sense of values and the view that the road toll is avoidable and it is not inevitable. Our predecessors in this place of all political hues gave our police the tools they needed to make our roads safer. I would like to briefly highlight some of the legislative changes that have occurred over the last 40 years.
In 1976 random breath testing was introduced, reducing the road toll to a still unacceptable 938 senseless deaths in that year. By 1983 red-light cameras had been introduced, and the toll was down to 664 deaths that year. In 1989 booze buses were introduced, and the toll fell to 548. In 2000 fixed speed cameras were introduced, reducing the toll to 407. By 2006 random drug testing and vehicle impoundment laws were introduced, and the toll was down to 337. Last year the road toll was down to 249.
Some would say this is a victory over the carnage of the 1970s — after all, there are now 5.4 deaths per 100 000 head of population — but it is not a victory. Hundreds of families still face the trauma and horror of a late-night phone call — mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, daughters and sons unexpectedly killed. And that does not include the police, ambulance and fire brigade officers who have to front up to this carnage hundreds of times during the year. The social cost is enormous.
Just this century, since New Year’s Day in the year 2000, over 5000 people have died on Victorian roads. To put this in context, that is equivalent to every adult and child in Leongatha being killed on our roads. There have been over 85 000 hospitalisations. That represents roughly the population of Ballarat, according to the last census. Over 13 500 were there for stays of over two weeks. That is the equivalent of every man, woman and child in Torquay and Jan Juc spending a fortnight in hospital for something that can be prevented. Of course this is all avoidable.
Road fatalities are an unnecessary human and financial cost to our society, and this bill is an important step in further cutting the road toll and making our roads safer. There are four main parts to this bill, which strengthens Victoria’s commitment to road safety, and I will deal with each of them in turn.
The bill introduces a new section 55BA and amends the relevant sections of part 5 of the Road Safety Act 1986 to allow police to request a blood sample from drivers who have been involved in a motor vehicle accident where serious injury or fatality has occurred if the driver is not admitted to hospital. The Andrews Labor government has announced its Ice Action Plan, which is a $45.5 million set of initiatives to reduce the supply and demand and harm of ice. It will provide greater resources for Victoria Police to take drug-affected drivers off our roads. This bill is an important part of that process, as it will allow the police to gather the necessary evidence to hold drugged drivers to account for the carnage they cause.
It is a response to the direct request of the former Chief Commissioner of Police, Ken Lay, after a terrible accident in the Docklands in 2014 that saw one death and a serious injury. The driver in question had collided with another car, causing the fatality and serious injury. He was swabbed and found to be under the influence of ice, and he had 50 grams of ice in the car. A refusal to provide a blood sample meant that police could not lay a charge of culpable driving causing death — a charge that carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in jail.
As the driver was not injured and did not require hospitalisation, there was no requirement for a mandatory blood test to be taken. This resulted in the laying of the lesser charges of dangerous driving causing death and dangerous driving causing serious injury. The driver may be back on the streets in as little as 20 months. This bill closes that loophole.
It is also important to note that this bill provides for the obtaining of evidence to establish that a driver was not drug affected when involved in an accident, proving they only had prescription medicine or recommended amounts of over-the-counter pharmaceuticals in their blood. This will assist police and courts to make the best decision about what charges are appropriate. Victoria Police will closely monitor the amendment to ensure its effectiveness. As further technological advances are made in drug detection and drug-associated impairment, there will be further amendments to the legislation to ensure that the intent of stopping drug-affected drivers is maintained.
The bill also amends section 84H of the Road Safety Act 1986 so that all prescribed offences detected by a road safety camera may be included as offences in relation to which Victoria Police can request the surrender of the vehicle under hoon legislation. This amendment is because traffic camera detected offences are based on ‘operator onus’. This means the infringement is sent to the owner. The 42-day period for the surrender notice is to allow authorities the time to process the image and give the owner time to respond. This is not controversial at all.
The next amendment, a change to the definition of designated costs in part 6A of the act, is likewise not controversial. The changed definition will mean that the designated costs reflect the true costs of impoundment — that is, it will mean facility lease, utilities, security, maintenance and other operating costs of the facility and of the vehicle impoundment support unit staff are properly accounted for when offenders pay for their impounded vehicle. The current definition of designated cost does not include these corporate overheads.
The fourth and final amendment is to section 84Z(3A) of the Road Safety Act to clarify the circumstances under which a court may not consider exceptional hardship when hearing an application for impoundment, immobilisation or forfeiture of a vehicle. This is an important amendment. It tidies up the language in the act and removes the discretion in relation to hardship applications. An important aspect of the hoon legislation is discouraging recidivist offenders. The extent of the legislation will be concise and clear to the courts. If a driver is disqualified or suspended from driving and persists in driving dangerously, resulting in a conviction for an offence under the hoon driving scheme, they should not be able to claim exceptional hardship. The cost to our community is too high, and driving on our roads is a privilege, not a right. Hoons and those who continue to behave in a hooning manner do not deserve that privilege.
This bill is a further step towards zero road deaths. Over the last 40 years amazing strides have been taken in keeping Victorian roads safer. The carnage of 1970 should never be repeated. However, hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries are still occurring on our roads, and this carnage must stop. We have to give our police and the courts the tools to keep our communities safe from those who do not want to be part of a safer road culture. This bill does just that, and I commend it to the house.