Victoria has rejected a recommendation to lower the driving age to 17. It will remain the only jurisdiction in Australia that does not allow unaccompanied driving until age 18.
The decision was flagged earlier this year by Minister for Roads and Road Safety Luke Donellan. It has now been formalised, as part of a package of tougher penalties and greater powers for Victoria Police, all in pursuit of Mr Donellan’s grand plan to cut the road toll in the state to zero.
In Australia driver licencing is a state and territory responsibility. As in many other areas, this has led to a confusing mix of laws across the country. The age at which drivers can get their L plates is 15 years and nine months in the ACT, and 16 years and all other jurisdictions, including Victoria.
All states and territories except Victoria allow unaccompanied driving at 17, with a number of different probationary license rules after that age. Only Victoria makes learners learn for two years.
The push to lower the driving age in Victoria initially came from James Purcell, the only parliamentary member of the Vote 1 Local Jobs microparty, which was formed in 2014. Mr Purcell was elected to the Western Victoria Region in the Victorian Legislative Council in the election of that year, receiving just 1.26% of the regional vote but winning office on preferences.
He has long called for the driving age to be lowered so that younger workers in regional Victoria could more easily get to work. He was successful in having the matter referred to the state Parliament’s Law Reform, Road and Community Safety Committee, which in March of this year recommended a lowering of the driving age to 17, in line with the rest of Australia.
The inquiry also recommended that if the license age was not lowered, the Government should consider allowing 17-year-olds facing ‘undue hardship’ to apply for P plates. This was rejected by the Government.
Mr Donellan said that lowering the driving age would cause ten more deaths a year and Victorian roads, without offering any supporting evidence other than a vague reference to ‘road safety experts’.
Mr Donnellan said drivers aged 18-25 were four times more likely to die or be seriously injured on the road. “The State Government has a ‘towards zero’ road safety policy. We’re very serious about that. We do not expect anybody in the future to die on our roads and that is very much what we’re working towards.”
The other measures introduced last week include the mandatory loss of licence for all drink driving offences, and increased powers for police to impound vehicles.
A zero road toll is a commendable aim. But it is also absurd that Australia’s state and territories have different driving ages. The Victorian Government has missed an opportunity to correct the anomaly.
The only way Victoria, or any place, could eliminate road deaths would be to ban motor vehicles altogether. That obviously will not happen, so it becomes a matter of degree. Victoria is erring too far on the side of caution.
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