Plates identifying road users who require extra patience from other motorists has been suggested. (Pixabay/VisPlate)
A Tasmanian woman who had a “nerve-racking” experience driving on the unfamiliar streets of Noosa on the Sunshine Coast wants to spare visitors to her home state the same trauma, and says a ‘V-plate’ is the answer.
However, the Tasmanian Government said it has addressed the issue of educating visiting drivers on how to drive safely and the number of crashes involving tourists in Tasmania was “relatively low”.
Under Tasmanian law, international visitors must have an International Driving Permit or a valid country of origin licence, provided it is in English or accompanied by an English translation. (Supplied: Wikipedia Commons)
Suzanne Jones said being behind the wheel in Queensland as a tourist sparked the idea for the sign, which people could adopt on a voluntary basis while on the road in Tasmania.
“You often a see a person trying to get across a lane quickly, they’re obviously not knowing where they are going,” Ms Jones told ABC Hobart on Tuesday.
“Sometimes we have courteous drivers who will pull back and let them in, other times we have people who aren’t as courteous and all things can happen.”
She said even with modern navigation systems in operation “they aren’t perfect and people can end up down the wrong road”.
Ms Jones said she had a frightening experience during her recent trip to Noosa.
“Admittedly, it was Christmas time and everything was very busy but I really noticed that driving in the city that I didn’t know was quite nerve-racking,” she said.
“I had a really bad experience with really discourteous drivers.”
Over a “few drinks” by her sister’s pool, “we thought we should do something about it”, she said.
The V-plate idea would be similar to P and L-plates, available as a sticker or in magnetic form, making it “easy to remove”.
The design, which includes the wording “courtesy please” has been trademarked, Ms Jones said.
“Unlike a mandated ‘tourist’ plate, the plate would be a voluntary identifier and a positive step to ensure the safety of both visiting drivers and locals alike,” she said.
The V is preferred over T for ‘tourist’, she explained, because a V-plate could be used by anyone unfamiliar with a particular area, such as a Tasmanian driver in an unfamiliar area, such as “Launceston and the one-way streets”.
The plate would “alert other drivers to allow a little more space, courtesy and a friendly wave for our visiting drivers who may be distracted when navigating in unfamiliar territory”.
Aside from other drivers, the local wildlife can provide a surprise for visitors. (ABC News: Chook Brooks)
The idea for signage to identify visiting drivers has been suggested before.
In 2016, a push in New Zealand, for tourist to undergo a driving test and display T-plates failed to bring about enforcement of such a law.
Nevertheless, the Kiwi campaign inspired a driving instructor from far north Queensland to call for the enforcement of T-plates for tourists to reduce the number of accidents on Australian roads.
In the wake of the 2016 debate in Queensland over the merits of T-plates, Tasmania’s former police and infrastructure minister Rene Hidding ruled out introducing T-plates for motoring tourists, following dismay over the death of seven visitors on Tasmanian roads over the previous 12 months.
Mr Hidding said the idea had little chance of being introduced in Tasmania.
He rubbished the idea as having the effect of causing discrimination against visiting drivers, which would in many cases deter them from coming to Tasmania.
“And if they were to, it would discourage them from leaving the cities,” he told NewsCorp in 2017.
Foreigners less likely to crash than mainlanders
Analysis of Tasmania’s latest road safety data shows that interstate visitors from the mainland are far more likely to be involved in crashes than those from a foreign country.
In 2014, people from Victoria comprised the largest group of visitors to Tasmania, followed by New South Wales, Queensland, West Australia, South Australia, Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory.
Tourists from China outnumbered those from USA, UK, NZ, Hong Kong, Germany, Singapore, Malaysia, Japan and France.
Of those 10 countries with the highest number of visitors, motorists from China, the US and Germany drive on the opposite side of the road.
The Government’s 2015 Investigation of Tourists as Drivers and Motorcycle Riders in Tasmania and Road Safety Interventions found “a number of challenges” for visiting foreign motorists in Tasmania, including “driving on the opposite side of the road”, “unfamiliar road signs, sometimes written in an unfamiliar language”, “unfamiliar road rules” and “different rules on alcohol consumption”.
The investigation found between 2010 and 2014, there were 1,249 serious casualty crashes in Tasmania, resulting in serious injury or a fatality.
Of these 1,249 crashes, 115 involved tourists from interstate and 16 involved international tourists.
This means interstate and international tourists accounted for 131, or 10 per cent, of all serious casualty crashes in Tasmania in that four-year sample period.
The investigation said an analysis of the contributing factors to serious casualty crashes found “inexperience, distraction and inattention” as affecting international tourists, while interstate visitors most often fell victim to “excessive speed”, “distraction external to vehicle”, “inexperience”, “animal on road”, and a “failure to observe road signs”.
In conclusion, the report said it “would not be accurate to describe interstate and international drivers as a road safety problem” in light of the statistics.
Following seven tourists dying in crashes on Tasmanian roads in 2016, the Government released its Road Safety Strategy 2017-2026, the “long-term vision of a Tasmania where no-one is seriously injured or killed as the result of a crash on our roads” — which made no mention of measures to target visiting drivers.
Instead, the December 2017 Tourist Road Safety Strategy offered advice on how to stay safe in 21 languages, including “pull over to take photos”, “always drive on the left side of the road”, “look out for animals”, “wear a seatbelt at all times” and “never use a mobile phone while driving”, with a campaign that targeted tourist entry points.
‘Not a case of targeting people’
Since the V-plate proposal would be based on voluntary use, there would be no need for government approval or legislation, as with the stick-on “Baby on Board” signs.
Ms Jones said the V-plate idea could go nationwide, as “we’re all visitors somewhere, some time”.
She stressed the V-plate proposal was not a case of “targeting people” as being a visitor or tourist, but was aimed at local drivers and putting the onus on them to be more accommodating.
“We want that positive behaviour to to be part of our community.”
The V-plate idea had been shown to the Royal Automobile Club Of Tasmania, in the hope of it winning their official backing.
“They are very are positive about our our idea, in fact they have thought of it themselves at different times,” Ms Jones said.
“But they’re not in a position to take it on.”
The V-plate team will seek sponsors to help them get the idea off the ground, she said.
In a statement, Infrastructure Minister Jeremy Rockliff said the Government’s position on the proposal “has not changed”.
“The Hodgman Liberal Government has developed the Tourist Road Safety Strategy which includes tips for interstate and international drivers and motorcyclists, on how to drive safely in and around the State,” Mr Rockliff said.
“The number of crashes involving tourists in Tasmania is relatively low.”
The RACT has been approached for comment.
Chart showing what side of the road tourists drive on in their home country, (red = right, blue = left). (Supplied: Department of State Growth)