Drug-driving laws will be broadened to include prescription drugs and the number of demerit points for using a mobile phone while behind the wheel will be increased as part of a road safety crackdown devised in response to last year’s deadly South Coast crash.
The initiatives, announced by NSW Minister for Roads, Maritime and Freight Melinda Pavey on Tuesday, will also see patients in the state’s Opioid Treatment Program (OTP) required to pass fitness-to-drive tests.
The changes have been made in the wake of the fiery Boxing Day crash near Bendalong, which claimed the lives of Home and Away star Jessica Falkholt, her sister Annabelle, and both her parents, Lars and Vivian.
The accident happened when a car, driven by a man on his way home from a methadone clinic in Nowra, veered onto the wrong side of the Princes Highway.
It prompted a review of penalties and driver safety relating to alcohol and drugs, including prescription drugs.
As part of the road rule overhaul, Ms Pavey said the definition of ‘drug’ in the Road Transport Act would be changed so people caught driving while impaired by “a broad range of new and emerging drugs” – including pharmaceuticals – could be charged as being under the influence. OTP guidelines will also be strengthened to reduce the risk of people driving while impaired by prescription drugs, the minister said, including clearer guidance on when doctors should report a patient to a driver licensing authority if they have concerns.
Meanwhile, drivers caught illegally using a mobile will soon lose five demerit points, up from the current four.
The increase, which comes into effect from September, will make it the toughest demerit-point penalty for such an offence in the country.
Data from Revenue NSW shows 290 drivers were fined by Wollongong Highway Patrol officers for illegally using a mobile phone in the 10 months to the end of April, while there were 165 offences in Lake Illawarra Highway Patrol’s jurisdiction.
A handful of fines were also issued by general duties officers attached to the Wollongong and Lake Illawarra police districts during the same period.
Ms Pavey said higher demerit points for illegal phone use would help change the way drivers act on our roads.
“We know from a recent RMS survey that 74 per cent of the community support a crackdown to illegal phone use behind the wheel. We all see it and the community has had enough,” she said.