MOTION: International drivers

MR PURCELL (Western Victoria) (14:05:06) — I move:

That this house notes that —

(1)   international visitors to Australia are not required to take any tests prior to driving on our roads, the only requirement is that they carry an English translation of their international licence;

(2)   international licence-holders are a danger on our roads, particularly as —

(a)    international licence-holders were involved in 3.46 per cent of all reported crashes in 2017;

(b)   21 per cent of crashes along the Great Ocean Road from July 2012 to June 2017 were caused by international licence-holders;

(c)    1.52 per cent of fatal crashes in Victoria in 2017 involved an international licence-holder;

(3)   in New Zealand, a campaign is in place to require international licence-holders to display a T-plate —

(a)    at present New Zealand road laws relating to international drivers are the same as Victoria;

(b)   New Zealand has had some success with a visitor driver training program that international licence-holders are encouraged to complete, which includes an online assessment and certificate of completion that drivers can present to car rental companies;

(c)    the program is widely promoted by car rental companies throughout New Zealand;

(4)   the Labor government introduced a visiting driver road safety program on 23 December 2017 that mirrors the New Zealand program that includes bilingual videos, digital advertising, social media and promotional materials within rental car companies, but does not require international licence-holders to be assessed in any way;

and calls on the government to extend this program to include compulsory driver training and certification before they are allowed to drive on Victorian roads.

It is my pleasure to move this motion today for a number of reasons, but particularly because of the increased number of crashes, including fatalities, on roads in my part of Victoria. While Western Victoria Region has a huge number of tourist attractions which include many that are day trips, like Sovereign Hill, there are many that are not able to be done in a day trip. These include the Great Ocean Road to the Twelve Apostles. To drive the Great Ocean Road to the Twelve Apostles one way takes something like 6 hours. Unfortunately when tourist companies are selling this as a tourist attraction they convince people that it is possible to drive to the Twelve Apostles and return as a day trip. It can be done, but quite often this happens after tourists arrive in Australia following a long trip. They hire a car, and increasingly they do hire cars, but after that long trip they get on the road through Geelong and down the Great Ocean Road to the Twelve Apostles and then come back. What that means is that they can be on the road for 10 or 12 hours, and many do not have the experience to do that.

My motion really has three parts. The first is that currently there is no test for international drivers. International drivers on our roads are currently required to carry a foreign licence with an English translation, but that is it. If you are on a temporary visa, for instance, you can drive for the length of the time that you are on that visa without any further testing. If you are on a permanent visa, you are able to drive on Victorian roads for six months. If you are over 21 years of age and have held a recognised foreign licence for three years or more, you can actually get a Victorian licence without any further testing. It could be that you held a licence in some far-off part of the world. You may never have driven. In some parts of the world it is very easy to get a licence. It is certainly much more difficult in Victoria.

So it is possible that you could have obtained a licence where completely different conditions exist. Therefore if you have had that licence for three years and you come to Victoria, you can get a Victorian licence. This is not uncommon throughout Australia, but it is certainly not in the best interests of the education process that we put our teenagers and young adults through to get a licence in Victoria. It is quite stringent, and it should be stringent. It is only fair to ensure that young people are safe on our roads when they get an opportunity to drive.

The statistics point out that international drivers are a danger on our roads. As the motion says, international drivers were involved in 3.46 per cent of reported cases in 2017. More importantly, though, is that when you look at the Great Ocean Road that figure goes to 21 per cent. Close to one-quarter of all accidents along the Great Ocean Road involve drivers with international licences. A number of these are quite serious accidents, and I will go to that a little bit later on.

Currently in Victoria we have something like 2.8 million international visitors a year, and this is very important to the Victorian economy because they spend somewhere in excess of $7 billion per annum. It is an industry that we need to protect, but we need to make those visitors feel safe, we need to make Victorians feel safe and we need to make our roads safe.

As well as this, you can look at the number of those international visitors who actually go down the Great Ocean Road. The Great Ocean Road is becoming more and more popular. While I said earlier there are many great attractions in country Victoria, the Great Ocean Road is by far the one you need to travel the longest distance along and the one that is so often promoted as a day trip. The efforts to try to change this to make it into more of an overnight stay have never worked because the tourism packages that are sold are actually sold before anyone gets to Australia, and they are sold under the belief that the trip is a few hours along the Great Ocean Road to the Twelve Apostles and then beyond, and then some way to return home.

Many of the tourists who do the trip along the Great Ocean Road find that they get 6 or 8 hours into their trip and would prefer to stay, but because they have booked their accommodation they find they need to get back to their accommodation as quickly as possible. What this means is that they will turn on their GPS and Google Maps. Google Maps will take them the shortest way, but unfortunately the shortest way often entails a trip along some very narrow, unsealed roads that were never designed for heavy traffic or driving at high speeds. This quite often causes a major problem. Due to fatigue drivers often cross over the centre lines, stop suddenly or take other measures that cause accidents.

New Zealand experienced similar problems. Even though they did not have the same issues of long-distance driving and the number of miles travelled, they were proactive and put together a good package that the state government has partially mirrored. The reason they did that is that they have actually published statistics that are much better than ours in Victoria. In my researching it was very difficult to find out how many road users are international drivers. The New Zealand statistics say that 6.2 per cent of fatal or injury-causing crashes involved foreign drivers. It is estimated that less than 1 per cent of drivers at any one time are international drivers. New Zealand have what they call a T-plate campaign, which was launched last year and which requires international licence-holders to show tourist plates. I believe this initiative would certainly help in Victoria.

It has been argued that if we did such a thing it would discourage tourists from coming to the state. I am not convinced that that is the case. I think that we as a state have a lot to offer, and I think that we would lose more if we do not make our roads safe and if we did not make the experience enjoyable. Unfortunately the experience of the tourist industry and international tourism is that some of these long-haul journeys are not enjoyable experiences. Some of the surveys that have been done of international visitors show that they are marking down their experience simply because of the length of the journeys and also because of the expectation that they can get there and back very quickly.

New Zealand also have bilingual videos, digital advertising, social media promotion and promotional materials for car rental companies. I am sure many members in the house are the same as me, but when you go overseas and hire a car the last thing you want to do is sit down and watch a video or read the brochures that are in the vehicle. The first thing you want to do is get the keys, get in the car, head out on your journey and sort it out later. The issue that arises from that is that we find that people with little experience get on the road. They have no assessment and there is no assessment component. There is no requirement for training by any of the hire car companies.

Traditionally the majority of our tourists who took long haul journeys actually took organised tours — they were not free agent tours — but there has now been a serious move towards hiring cars and driving long distances. Many of our tourism areas are different. I am using the Great Ocean Road and the Twelve Apostles as an example. In my part of western Victoria we have a huge number of great tourist attractions, including Tower Hill, Budj Bim and many others, including the Grampians. These are not promoted as day trips. The issue we often have is many accidents. Locally we get daily reports of serious accidents occurring along that stretch of road. I am sure it is the same in other parts, but it is certainly desperate.

In the busy period the Twelve Apostles alone get something like 10 000 visitors a day. In 2017 — last year — there were over 2 million visitors to the Twelve Apostles. Most of those visitors come down the Great Ocean Road. That is a lot of visitors and a lot of extra people to have on that road. As I said, it is a 6-hour journey, and that is without stopping to have a break of any description.

The road was actually built in the early 1930s as a memorial to those who lost their lives in the First World War. It was meant to be a memorial to those who lost their lives in the First World War and not a memorial to those who lost their lives driving on the road. Unfortunately it is becoming that more and more.

Anyone who travels that road will see a recognition of the lives that have been lost there. It is a 240-kilometre stretch. It takes 6 hours, and many people try to drive it and return in a day. Most believe that they can do it in a much shorter period of time. I believe there is a definite requirement to require people to have some form of test before they go and drive on our roads.

Just to give you an example of some of the accidents that have occurred on that particular road and in some other parts of western Victoria, these are just the more recent ones. On 6 February there was a nose-to-tail accident when a hire car driven by a foreign national failed to stop and hit the rear of the last car in a stop line. That car was being driven by a Chinese national and the impact caused her car to hit the car in front, which was also being driven by a Chinese national. The police actually commented after that. Their comment was:

'Police are concerned about driver behaviour and safety of all road users, especially with the Chinese New Year being celebrated on Friday, 16 February …

'These celebrations have in the past seen a large number of tourists travel down the Great Ocean Road.

'We are asking all drivers to be patient and alert due to the expected increased numbers of foreign nationals on the roads at this time …

So the police are pleading with people to be careful. They are pleading daily with locals to be careful, and I know as a person who drives around western Victoria that it is at the top of your mind every time you come to an intersection. You think, 'I wonder who is going that way, I wonder who it is, I wonder whether they will stop'.

I reported to this house not long ago that I was only a few metres away from my office just before Christmas when a Chinese national went through a give-way sign and T-boned a local. He saw the give-way sign but did not know what it meant so he went straight through it. Luckily there was nobody hurt; obviously it was a lucky escape. The reports are quite frequent.

The day before — this is on 5 February — Sergeant Greenwood said about international motorists that there was concern about the horror stretch of road:

Sergeant Greenwood said in addition to speeding, motorists travelling on the wrong side of the road and failing to obey signs due to a language barrier were issues police faced regularly.

'We have people turning out of car parks onto the incorrect side of the road or people stopping abruptly when they see something that interests them, perhaps a koala' …

'We've certainly found international tourists are over-represented in trauma' …

That is a quote from Sergeant Greenwood himself.

Another quote came out of the Ballarat Courier when on Thursday an Indian on a student visa was driving on an international drivers licence and allegedly crashed, causing the death of a Fernhill father after a head-on collision. Serious accidents are happening far too often.

In the Warrnambool Standard on 8 January they went and did a survey and I think found that more than 75 per cent, actually well into the high 70 per cents, of people surveyed said — these were international drivers and international tourists themselves — that they felt there should be more stringent rules and a better test. A Canadian visitor, Anne Marie Barakar, said:

… the idea of tighter licensing requirements for overseas drivers seems like a good idea.

Ms Barakar, 33, who was visiting Tower Hill with Australian relatives, said she did not feel safe driving on Australian roads because she drove on the other side of the road in Canada.

The closest she has come to driving in Australia was in a car park and her unfamiliarity with the car's layout and Australian road rules persuaded her to leave the driving in Australia to her Australian relatives.

Nine News reported on 31 December that the brother of a man killed in a car crash near the Great Ocean Road on Boxing Day had made an emotional plea for tougher conditions for international drivers. Nine reported:

George Hullo, 52, died after a collision on the notoriously dangerous intersection at Birregurra Forest on December 26.

A 27-year-old Chinese national has since been charged with dangerous driving causing death and dangerous driving causing serious injury.

On 20 December 2017 the Geelong Advertiser reported:

A European man who was driving on the wrong side of Cape Otway Road when he collided with a truck last week has died in hospital.

It comes as a Chinese woman fights for life in the Alfred after pulling out in front on a ute on a 100 km/h stretch of the Princes Highway, at the Cape Otway Road intersection …

These are only some examples of many that I could take you through. Unfortunately this is such a serious issue that we are losing lives not only of visitors but certainly of Australians who are being crashed into. My proposal is that we would have a simple test that would determine whether you understand the basic rules of driving in Victoria. I have been told that we have an international convention that says if we require a pre-test for driving in Victoria, that may well happen to Victorians and Australians travelling overseas. For me I say that is a great thing.

I, like many here who have driven overseas, can very clearly remember looking the wrong way at a roundabout. Luckily the passenger I had with me stopped me in time so that I did not cause a major accident. After growing up and driving while looking to the right it is very easy when you are on the other side of the road to look right instead of left and to turn out into traffic. I say it would be a good thing if we were required to have a test prior to driving in any other part of the world, because I would challenge any member here as to whether they do actually know the road rules when they go driving overseas.

I thought it would be interesting to have a look at, for instance, the blood alcohol limits in different parts of the world. Some are in excess of what ours are, like in Swaziland where you can drive from .1 to .15 and there is no problem, but if you go to Hungary, for instance, the limit is zero. So if you are driving in Hungary and you have some remains of alcohol of any description in you, it is zero. In Brazil and Canada, for instance, it is .08, and in places that you would expect, like Jordan, you would understand they are zero. Some of these countries actually have immediate jail sentences if you exceed their limits. To not know that when you leave this country and go and drive in another part of the world could land you in jail, and that is something we do need to take into consideration.

Some of the driving laws in other parts of the world we would regard as being crazy, but if you were driving in these countries, you would need to abide by them so you would need to know what they are. For instance, if you are driving in Costa Rica, you can drink any alcoholic beverage while driving as long as you do not get drunk, but you go to jail if your blood alcohol level is more than 0.75. So if you are in Costa Rica, you need to know that otherwise you will finish up in a Costa Rican jail. Not ever having been there myself, I can assure you it would not be a pleasant place to spend any time, and who knows how long you are going to spend there.

It is the same if you go into China. The level in China is .03, and you will finish in big trouble if you exceed that limit.

Here are some of the other laws that you need to know. Eating or drinking, even water, is illegal while you are in Cyprus. In Russia driving a dirty car is an offence. It can be dirty inside or outside; you are breaking the law if you have a dirty car in Russia. If you run out of fuel on a German autobahn, it is not regarded as being unlucky; it is regarded as unnecessary stopping and is against the law. In Spain those who require vision correcting glasses must carry a spare pair of glasses with them. So if you are driving in Spain and you wear glasses and you do not have a spare with you, you are breaking the law and there are quite severe penalties for it.

In Sweden you must drive with your headlights on 24 hours a day. This is even through summer, when there is 24 hours of sunlight. You still must have your headlights on, and it is a serious punishment if you do not. If you are driving in France you are required to have an unused breathalyser kit with you, even if you are riding a motorcycle. Passengers who travel with a drunk driver in Japan are breaking the law, even if they are not drunk themselves. Drivers who unnecessarily raise a hand from the steering wheel in Cyprus are breaking the law. It is surprising, but apparently in Alabama it is illegal for people to drive while blindfolded. I am not sure whether it is illegal in Victoria to drive while blindfolded, but I think it is something that we need to know.

As I said, my proposal is that we do not let this carnage continue and that we have a simple test prior to allowing anyone onto our roads. Just in summary, the types of questions that I would propose — it could be an online test, but I think they need to be simple questions — include: what side of the road do you drive on in Victoria? What are the speed limits? What is the legal blood alcohol limit? Who do you give way to at a roundabout? What are the speed limits in school zones? Do you know what is meant by a give-way sign? What do double lines on a road mean? Do you need to wear seatbelts? Can you smoke in a car? They are very simple questions that would at least make people realise that we do have laws and that they need to do something about them.

To summarise, the intent of the motion is for us to consider that there are a lot of issues in regard to international drivers. The number of accidents is increasing significantly with the increased number of self-drive holiday tourists coming from overseas. We need to do something. We need to do it before we impact the tourist industry too much. We need to make certain that people on our roads are safe. We need to make certain that all of the requirements and road laws that we have are understood and that we protect Victorians and international visitors to this country. With that, I commend my motion on international drivers to the house.