Wednesday 9th July 2008
In Committee
(Department of Infrastructure, Energy and Resources
Output group 1
1.3  Road safety - Resumed from 8 July 2008 (page 85)
Mr FINCH - I want to elicit a response from the Leader, understanding his interest in road safety and being on the Road Safety Council - is that so?

Mr Parkinson - Former Chair of the Road Safety Council.

[12.00 p.m.]
Mr FINCH - It is a subject that we have discussed here before in this Chamber.  I brought it to your attention during question time.  When I could not get an answer from the minister at the time I had to write to the Minister for Infrastructure, raising the concerns of my constituents.  I wrote:

'� has brought up concerns about several instances of cancellation of driving licences because the holder is of a certain age. 

In view of continuing concern about the cancellation of driving licences because of age, and for no other reason, will the Government adopt the recommendations of the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner on the matter?

Will the Government also give instructions to the police and/or the Registrar to stop denying driving licences to people over 85 years of age who have a clean traffic and medical record? 

You will realise that these cancellations are causing hardship to some older people and you will also be aware that inconsistencies such as these cause public confusion and lessen confidence in our laws.'

That was the letter I wrote to the Minister for Infrastructure, Graeme Sturges, and I received a reply some time later:

'Thank you for your letter ...'

He was talking about an earlier letter on 3 May:

'In that letter I confirmed that the Department of Infrastructure, Energy and Resources had, in line with the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner's report, commenced a review of Tasmania's older driver licensing system.  Further, that a driver licence is not cancelled due to age alone.  It is only cancelled when there is evidence that the holder no longer meets the eligibility criteria (e.g. they do not have sufficient driving skills to drive safely).'

The person who raised this issue with me gave me three examples of people that he had been dealing with who were distressed, inconvenienced and concerned that their lives had been swung around.  I will read one of the instances to you.  This is from Dr Owen Ingles from my electorate and concerns someone who had her licence taken off her because of a medical report:

' a lady who used her car to get to Deloraine.  She became very upset and stressed, being an isolated person with no relations or support.  Tragically dropped dead two weeks from worry after the licence was taken.'.

Mr Parkinson - Just as well she wasn't driving.

Mr FINCH - I do not want to be emotive about it, but that was one of the examples that was given.

I have just received a letter from Dr Ingles this morning - and I am looking for a comment seeing that you have your departmental people here - regarding age discrimination in licensing:

'Thank you indeed for your copies of correspondence with Infrastructure Minister Sturges on the above matter.  His letter of 30 June inst. actually proves my point that discrimination based on age is being practised by DIER when he says that (quote) "they do not have sufficient driving skills to drive safely".  That statement could equally apply to 80-year-olds, 90-year-olds or even 20, 30 or 40-year-olds when affected by liquor, drugs etc.  I challenge the Minister to produce any factorial analysed statistical data for Tasmanian drivers which shows a significant effect of age when the medical condition was sound, the aged driver was not the one at fault in the accident, the car was roadworthy and road condition was not a factor in any accident.  The penultimate paragraph of your letter of 3 June to Mr Sturges seems to have been ignored, as no firm date has been given by him. 

Perhaps you would be good enough to convey my challenge (above) to Mr. Sturges and see if his Department can do better than their evasive wording of 30th June quoted above.'.

Could I get a comment, please, Leader?

Mr PARKINSON - There are a few comments.  On the alcohol interlocks, basically we accept the comments made by the honourable member for Nelson.  The minister announced during the budget Estimates the start of a six- to nine-month trial that will consider options for a permanent scheme in Tasmania.  It is seen at this stage as possibly having some merit.  His comments have been noted regarding the 40 kilometre per hour sign at Alanvale Road.  That will be looked at.

Mr Wilkinson - This is only hearsay, I haven't seen it.  That may be wrong.

Mr PARKINSON - Okay.  As far as the curfew for young drivers is concerned, that has been looked at over the years by the Road Safety Council.  As we all know, Tasmania is a widely dispersed, largely regional population which relies on driving for access to employment services and social networks.  It is still considered at this time that any such move would penalise novice drivers who are single parents.  They would be unable to drive with their children in the vehicle during the curfew period, for example.  It would impinge on the ability of novice drivers who work in the hospitality/food services industry to earn a living.  Many shifts are worked at night.

Mr Wilkinson - This is only with passengers, though.  It's not the drivers; the driver can still drive.

Mr PARKINSON - But it is regarded still as imposing too much of a restriction on the age group.  Community road safety partnership programs such as 'Who's Des tonight?' encourages responsible car pooling among young people to ensure there is a designated driver who remains alcohol-free.

As the honourable member said, some jurisdictions made the accusation that Tasmania's statistics do not suggest that this is a problem area.  As was said on previous occasions when the matter has been raised, the Government will be keeping a watching brief on that because it remains as a potential and it is seen as necessary.

Parramatta Creek - I do not want to start commenting on individual accidents, particularly recent ones which haven't been properly investigated so we do not know the cause.  It is unwise to focus attention on individual accidents in any event.

Mr Dean - I simply cited that as another accident occurring in that area, and there are many of them.

Mr PARKINSON - My advice indicates that DIER will be undertaking further inspections of the crash site and looking at whether any further treatment of the site is required.  Of course, the accident will be the subject of a coronial inquiry.

Mr Dean - It is not about the accident.  I simply cited it to identify that there had been another accident in this area of road.  I did say that we are not looking at that accident.

Mr PARKINSON - I know.  I am just being careful  - and again you are emphasising it - to keep away from individual accidents, particularly recent ones.  There is enough grief involved for the people concerned without raising it further in this place.

On the issue of best-practice infrastructure in the context of Tasmanian road safety strategy, research and best practice identify a number of infrastructure measures that enhance safety.  These include separation of opposing vehicles in high-speed settings - that is, zones greater than 70 kilometres per hour; using flexible barriers, roadside barriers, roundabouts and intersections in both urban and rural settings; safer road areas; high standards of delineation; sealed shoulders in rural areas; consistent high-skid resistance of road pavements and comprehensive coverage of road hazards using crash-worthy barriers.  They are all aspects of best practice in the Tasmanian context.

The matter of older drivers is often raised in this House.  The older driver licensing system is being reviewed in line with the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner's report.  The review is expected to be completed by the end of 2008.  From personal experience I am aware of many older drivers on the road, including my 87-year-old father, who continues to pass the test and associated medical which he has to have every year - much to my personal displeasure, I might add.  Poor old dad; he wouldn't like to give up his licence.  These days he generally only drives around the town anyway.

Ms Forrest - It is a big issue for older people in our rural communities where there is no public transport or potentially any other way of getting about, so you are completed isolated.

Mr PARKINSON - Yes, but if they pass their medical and pass their test then they keep their licence; that is what it amounts to.  The community at large is entitled to feel safe on the roads.  It just so happens that the elderly, whether we like it or not, are at a higher risk if -

Mr Wilkinson - It is not that they have a lot of time to plan.  My mother-in-law, who is 90 in November, was rung up one day and she went for the licence the next day.  I think that is a good thing because it is pretty spontaneous.

Mr PARKINSON - I think our system is fairly lenient.  You don't get the annual test, do you, until you are 85.

Mrs Jamieson - We had a problem in Devonport where a gentleman passed his medical, passed all his questions but had dementia.  He could not make a decision about putting a sock on in the morning and yet, because he passed the test and passed his driving, he was still allowed to drive around until he was 90.  He could not make a rational decision about changing lanes and suddenly pulling up.  He was on automatic virtually but he still passed and still had his licence.

Mr PARKINSON - It is difficult to comment on individual examples.

Mrs Jamieson - Yes.  I wrote to the Motor Registry, the GP and the police and alerted to them to this fact, and they still let him go.  So there are some issues that need to be looked at properly.

Mr Wilkinson - With dementia, people still can do things quite well and other things not so well.

Ms Forrest - They have individual limitations.  People with epilepsy aren't allowed to drive either.

Mr PARKINSON - People of this House from time to time have been accused of having dementia.