LOWERING the minimum probationary driving age from 18 to 17 would result in an additional 10 fatalities, 241 serious injuries and 714 minor injuries on Victoria’s roads each year, according to VicRoads.

The alarming forecast was made following a Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) call this week to lower the probationary driving age to 17 across the State, bringing Victoria in line with New South Wales legislation.

According to VFF Young Agribusiness Professionals chairman, Sam Trethewey, ABOVE,  skill, rather than age, should determine when young drivers are ready to get behind the wheel.

Mr Trethewey said lowering the probationary driving age would reduce the isolation felt by rural communities, with many having limited access to public transport.

“Rural communities thrive when people are engaged and able to contribute,” he said. “The ability of our youth to participate in education, training, sport and leisure activities all relies on their capacity to access them.

“They don’t have access to public transport, so driving is really the only option, and if car transport can’t be made, that’s an opportunity our young people can’t have.”

VicRoads – the State body responsible for delivering road safety initiatives – disagrees.

“Last year, crashes that involved young drivers between the ages of 18 to 25 claimed 54 lives and seriously injured almost 1000 people,” VicRoads director of Vehicle and Road Use Policy, Robyn Seymour, said.

“Those are real people, someone’s son, daughter, brother or sister and this is far too many people’s lives devastated forever by road trauma.

“In Victoria, death rates on country roads are four times higher than on metropolitan roads, as roads in rural areas are often of a lower standard, and speed limits are typically higher than those in urban environments.

“This combination makes driving in rural areas more risky for all drivers, but particularly for young, newly licensed drivers.

“We understand that the minimum licensing age may have some impact on the personal mobility of some young people, however, we don’t apologise for prioritising their safety, and the safety of other road users who may be impacted in the event of a crash.”

According to recent Transport Accident Commission statistics, 20 fatalities involving drivers aged between 16 and 20 occurred on the State’s roads in the past 12 months. Of those deaths, 11 occurred in rural Victoria.

In that same time, the TAC recorded 266 serious collision incidents resulting in hospitalisation for drivers aged 0 to 25. Seventeen injuries occurred in the 0 to 17 bracket, while 249 injuries were recorded for drivers aged 18 to 25.

In 2015, 22 percent of Victorian drivers killed were aged between 18 and 25, with this age group representing around 13 percent of all Victorian licence holders.

The State Government’s Law Reform, Road and Community Safety Committee is currently leading an inquiry on the issue, with the VFF vowing to continue to push for a lower driving age as part of that inquiry.

Member for Mildura, Peter Crisp, said that while he was sympathetic toward the VFF’s views, he believed it was important to wait for the results of the Law Reform, Road and Community Safety Committee inquiry.

“This is a party committee that will reflect a number of different points of view, and will take all evidence and opinions into account,” he said.

“I encourage Mildura residents to put forth a submission to this inquiry, and ensure their views are heard, because the issues are very different here compared to other areas.”

Mr Crisp said that while he could understand the views of both the VFF and VicRoads, it was his belief that a compromise “could well be reached” on the issue.

“There is a real possibility that this inquiry will come up with recommendations that please everyone,” he said. “We could very much have a compromise where the probationary driving age is not universally lowered, but an accommodation is made to help young people who need a driver’s licence for employment.”

Mr Trethewey, however, believes the current learner permit and probation system, including 120 hours of supervised driving, ensures that young drivers are adequately skilled and trained.

He said probationary restrictions on passengers, mobile phone use and blood alcohol levels were also comprehensive in lowering the risks for young drivers.

“Reducing the probationary driving age would be one step towards ensuring young people in rural areas are able to engage in what their communities have to offer,” he said.

“It would reduce the impact of isolation and burden on families caused by distance and lack of public transport, and it would also address competitive disadvantage for rural businesses by bringing our driving laws into alignment with other States and Territories.”

The VFF’s call for a lower driving age has been made against a backdrop of rising youth mental health issues and unemployment across the State.

Mr Trethewey said it was important to recognise how isolation is limiting choice and stimulation in rural Victoria, and contributing to these challenges.

“Accessing the workplace is a significant challenge for young people unable to drive independently,” he said. “Young staff need to be transported to and from their place of employment, with this burden often falling on a parent or family member.”

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