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Foreign drivers ‘no more dangerous’ than Australians

Calls for tougher testing for foreign drivers
The wreck of a car driven by a P-plater in Victoria who fell asleep behind the wheel in 2015. Photo: AAP/Victoria Police
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Foreign drivers pose no greater risk on Australia’s roads than domestic drivers, a road safety expert says.

Dr Mark King, a senior research fellow at the Queensland University of Technology’s Centre of Accident Research and Road Safety (CARRS-Q), was responding to a federal politician’s warnings about the risks of international drivers on Australian roads.

Turnbull government backbencher Sarah Henderson on Tuesday said the lack of more thorough driver testing or compulsory safety instruction for foreign motorists created a “moving time bomb”.

Ms Henderson’s seat of Corangamite in Victoria takes in part of the Great Ocean Road, a popular scenic route for visitors, which she said had become a hotspot for accidents caused by foreign visitors.

“At least 20 per cent of all crashes on the Great Ocean Road are now involving or being caused by international drivers,” she said, citing VicRoads figures.

But CARRS-Q’s Dr King said research did not conclusively show foreign drivers to be a greater threat on our roads than other licence holders.

CARRS-Q research on accidents between 1996 and 1999 showed that international licence holders represented 0.7 per cent of the total number of drivers involved in fatal crashes.

In accidents involving the “more common causes” such as speed and drink-driving, foreign drivers tended to have lower rates of incidence, Dr King said.

But they were more likely to be in accidents where disorientation or fatigue were factors, suggesting that when foreign drivers became tired, they may lose focus and forget to keep to the left.

Under current rules, international visitors can use their home licences for an unlimited time when driving in Australia (provided they are in English) and are only required to convert their licences once they become residents.

The federal MP, Ms Henderson, said the current rules were not “good enough”. She argued tourists should have to prove their driving skills before being able to hire a car and that governments should adopt a tougher approach to international driver’s licences.

“It is a real danger that these international tourists are coming across from other parts of the world, getting into a hire car … and they really are a moving time bomb,” she said.

“I just don’t think it’s good enough that there’s no verification of someone’s driving experience when they arrive in Australia.”

Calls for tougher testing for foreign drivers
Elyse Miller-Kennedy, 17, was killed when French tourist Cindy Gronin veered onto the wrong side of the road in Mareeba, north Queensland in August 2016. Gronin received a suspended two-year sentence. Photo: Facebook

Ms Henderson also suggested the option of greater education for international tourists hiring cars, such as compulsory safety videos or instructional booklets.

“We need to look at ways in which we can ensure that we know that they have the requisite driving experience …

“On a weekly basis, we are hearing of incidents involving international drivers on the wrong side of the road, stopping in the middle of the road taking photographs of koalas … [and] running through stop signs.”

Make tourists display ‘T plates’, says driving instructor

Stephen Lee, who runs a driving school in Mossman in far north Queensland, started a Change.org petition in 2016 calling for tourists visiting Australia for less than three months to display a ‘T plate’, similar to L or P plates.

He also suggested car hire companies provide handbooks summarising problem road rules and key differences when renting vehicles.

T plates would identify tourists on the road and ideally make other drivers more patient and tolerant towards them, Mr Lee said.

“Up here we have a lot of foreign drivers and clearly they don’t understand the road rules and so a plate would be warning other people that they aren’t familiar with our rules.”

Mr Lee’s petition also called for foreign drivers in Australian longer than three months to obtain an Australian licence by passing a written and practical road test.

“We have a lot of [foreign] students and backpackers here for longer than three months driving around on their overseas licences.”

However, Dr King at CARRS-Q said special plates had “no real” benefit and could lead to “targeting or discrimination” of those drivers.

Testing of foreign drivers before or on arrival to Australia was also “logistically very difficult” and could provide a disincentive or discouragement for the tourism industry, Dr King said.

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