Campaspe drivers taking more risks during COVID-19 restrictions

By Ivy Jensen

LEADFOOTS and drivers high on drugs have been risking the lives of everyone on our roads during COVID-19 restrictions.

And police are aiming to curb this risky behaviour ahead of Fatality Free Friday – a campaign that comes just weeks after two deaths on Campaspe roads.

Australian Road Safety Foundation’s latest research shows three quarters of regional Victorian drivers admit to being heavy footed, which increased by 18 per cent during coronavirus lockdowns.

Data not all surprising for Acting Sergeant Ian Brooks of Campaspe Highway Patrol who was left shaking his head in disbelief recently after nabbing a NSW man doing more than 100km/h over the limit near Echuca.

The 37-year-old was detected at 207km/h on the highway north of Rochester about 3pm on April 30.

“He didn’t have an excuse. He was just taking the car for a drive and thought he’d see how it went,” Sgt Brooks said.

“He had no nasty traffic history or drugs in his system.”

The man is facing charges of dangerous driving and his car has been impounded.

“He is looking at a substantial fine and significant licence loss which will be up to the courts,” Sgt Brooks said.

The research also shows one third of drivers admit to taking increased road risks since the coronavirus lockdowns were enforced.

Sgt Brooks despite fewer cars on the roads during the restrictions, police were seeing an increase in bad driver behaviour.

“It’s not something we don’t already know. We see it all the time,” he said.

“Campaspe drivers are taking more risks during COVID-19 restrictions. And we’ve seen a marked increase in the average speed.

“I put it down to people out there who are breaking the COVID-19 rules anyway so they don’t care.

“There’s less traffic on the road so they are taking the opportunity to go faster.

“The biggest concern is that these idiots engaging in high risk behaviour will come together with other people circulating now because of the ease in restrictions, so you get those doing the wrong thing in amongst the innocent who are taking the opportunity to go and visit friends or play golf because they can.

“I think people also believed police were too busy enforcing the COVID restrictions so they thought it was a free for all on the roads. But some of them were severely disappointed.”

Including motorists high on drugs, predominately meth and cannabis.

“Drug driving is way higher than last year and that’s due to our increase in our testing capacity,” Sgt Brooks said.

“It’s also because drug-affected drivers are breaching the rules anyway and there is less traffic to hide in so we can isolate them more easily.”

During Easter last year, police detected drugs in one in every 20 drivers.

“This year it was one in every five. That’s a huge increase. That’s Victoria wide and our data supports that,” Sgt Brooks said.

A quarter of motorists also admit to using their mobile phone while driving, which Sgt Brooks said was a deadly distraction.

“Motorists aren’t just subtly looking at their phone when they’re pulled up at the traffic lights, they’re blatantly chatting with friends with their phone stuck to their head,” he said.

“They have no sympathy from me. I’m yet to see a reasonable excuse for doing that.

“The fact 25 per cent of people are admitting their speeding or using mobile phones while driving indicates 25 per cent of the population are putting 75 per cent of the population at risk and they don’t care.

“If this was 25 per cent of people who were randomly spitting on others and giving them a disease, this wouldn’t be tolerated.

“If you’re in a car with a driver who is on their mobile phone you need to call it out and insist they stop it. One to two seconds is all it takes for a car to cross over double lines and hit another car at 100km/h and cars are not designed to protect people being stupid.”

Sgt Brooks has certainly seen his fair share of stupidity on our roads.

“I saw a driver who didn’t have a steering wheel so he fitted two spanners to the steering column and was driving at 100km/h,” he said.

“I see stupid things every day. People squealing their wheels around a corner. I still don’t understand how that proves anything other than that you’re an idiot.”

The top traffic cop is calling on motorists to take some responsibility and do the right thing ahead of Fatality Free Friday on May 29.

And particularly after two fatal crashes in Kyabram this month.

“The only way we can have a Fatality Free Friday is if the community accepts having a fatality is wrong,” he said.

“I don’t know how the community accepts this is right. It beggars belief. If you line up 200 people every year and say you’re prepared to accept that they will die as long as you don’t know them, then that’s a poor attitude.

“While we are the enforcement agency, the community and society need to be the ones to stand up and do the right thing. Unless society stands up to this, we could hand out tickets until we have none left and people will still continue to do it.”