Road Transport Legislation Amendment (Road Safety) Bill 2018

1st May 2018

Mr GREG PIPER ( Lake Macquarie ) ( 17:45 :48 ): I will put my mobile phone down because I do not want to be distracted while I am speaking on this very important bill. The Road Transport Legislation Amendment (Road Safety) Bill 2018 is but a handful of pages—it is a very simple bill. While it is a simple bill, I thank the Minister for Roads, Maritime and Freight and the Government for tackling these very important issues. It only needs to be a simple bill because we are talking about a simple premise: that innocent road users should be safe, but that we will not stand for road users who defy the standards set by the public and use alcohol or illicit drugs or are distracted by mobile phones while they are driving. We have had enough of that sort of behaviour. If those drivers will not take personal responsibility, we have to introduce other methods of dealing with that behaviour.

I am generally quite concerned about measures that might be seen as an intrusion by the State into people's rights to do certain things—the notion of the Big Brother State. I am sure that some people will speak about some of the elements of this bill in that context. But that is not the case. This bill is not about Big Brother—other than Big Brother saying, "Brother, you are being irresponsible. Stop it. You are risking not only your own life with your actions in your motor vehicle; you are also risking the life of other road users or your friends and family who might be in the vehicle with you."

The issue of testing for cocaine is really just keeping up with the times. We should always ensure that the law is equitable; we should not discount certain drugs that, for whatever reasons, we have certain perceptions about. We know that drugs do affect people's behaviour and that they are used by some drivers. It does not make it better if somebody is killed or injured by a driver who is affected by marijuana and not cocaine. Of course that testing should be included in the legislation. I acknowledge the Government is taking action on people who use mobile phones while driving, handheld mobile phones in particular. I know that studies show that any conversation through a hands-free or a handheld mobile phone is going to affect a driver to some degree. I do not know how we deal with the issue of hands-free mobile phone use by drivers. I use one myself and I try to use it responsibly and limit myself, but I personally believe that there is a difference between using a hands-free mobile phone and a handheld mobile phone.

As a motorcyclist, while I am on a motorcycle I have a heightened awareness of vehicles coming towards me and I always watch the eyes of the driver. I am not interested in anything much else other than where that car that is heading towards me is going. Often I can see that the person coming towards me is almost oblivious to the conditions around them, and frequently I will see that the driver is holding a handheld mobile phone to their ear. That gives me a huge amount of concern. I often say to people that if they hear of the member for Lake Macquarie having been killed on his motorcycle they should look to see if there might have been a car around at the time with a handheld mobile phone in it, because the odds are that a mobile phone could well and truly be involved. It does not mean that it will be—a whole host of things can happen to anybody—but statistically the use of handheld mobile phones by drivers involved in accidents is quite significant and it should not be discounted, but it should be stopped.

Recently I spoke to my local area commander, Danny Sullivan. Danny was speaking to me about some of my social media engagement. I have been trying to use social media a lot more in getting messages out to the community about different matters rather than self-promotion. He asked me if I would be interested in looking at the issue of driver behaviour in southern Lake Macquarie, which has a much higher incidence of accidents causing death or injury than the State average. There is really no excuse for that, but I have to agree that it is certainly obvious in a number of ways. If people do not personally know anybody who has died, they only need to drive around the area and see all the roadside memorials—they are quite prolific in southern Lake Macquarie. People probably do know somebody who has died in the local area from an accident that may have been caused by bad judgement, but too often it is beyond that—it is almost wilful activity on the part of some of those drivers involved.

I started putting together a little video on this issue yesterday. I was not sure if this bill was going to be debated tonight, so I was not triggered by that; I was triggered by the request of the local area commander, Danny Sullivan, to do something on this issue. Apart from personalising this debate by saying that I am a motorcyclist and that I am aware of the drivers out there, what makes me more aware of road safety—and I know many other members in this House are similarly affected—is that I am a father and a grandfather. My granddaughters will be driving soon, or they will be hopping into other people's cars.

I do not want people to wilfully assume, as the member for Kiama said, that they have a right to drive how they like when they like. Drivers do not have the right to put somebody else at risk by driving too fast. Even if nothing happens, they have wilfully caused unnecessary anxiety and have exposed people to unnecessary risk. I want to see that stopped. I want to see my community safe, but I do not know how to do that. I do not know how we are going to do it, but, once again, I acknowledge that the Government and the Minister are having a go. I think some of these measures will be quite significant and I thank them for that.

I want all those people who will complain about the loss of some perceived right they think they should have to think about the one, two, three or dozens of people who will not be killed because of stupidity on the road or the many hundreds or thousands who will not be injured. That is the personal, social and familial cost. The other side of it is the actual cost. If we want to be crass about dollars and cents there is a real financial cost to the community but that is not what should be motivating us and I do not think it is. It is about the personal cost in our communities. I fully support the bill. It is wonderful timing for me to be able to raise this with my community and for people to be able to have a good look at themselves in the mirror if this is the behaviour they are exhibiting. Once again I thank the Minister and the Government for taking this action.

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