Call to road test overseas drivers

EIGHTY dollars per person, an average of 10 people per month, for a season that runs for more than six months: that's the current situation with foreigners passing through Stanthorpe Magistrates Court on simple traffic charges throughout the traditional backpacker season.

That accumulates to a conservative estimate of about $4800 in court costs to cover the driving habits of international drivers each month.

But whose fault is it?

Councillor Denise Ingram said more should be done at both state and local government level to test foreign drivers and provide more awareness about driving in Australia.

"I'd like to approach the State Government to have some form of competency test for people staying in Australia for more than six months," Cr Ingram said.

"Probably everyone should be tested.

"Through the State Government we need to look at the issues and as a community we need to get a cohesive set-up."

There's no hiding the benefits backpackers bring to the region, and Cr Ingram said it was important issues associated with the influx of foreigners were finally addressed.

"All dangerous conditions need to be addressed. I think we have a responsibility to inform them about the dangers," she said.

"We can't forget it this time, we have to work on it."

But the problems caused by foreign drivers are nothing new for Granite Belt authorities.

About 12 months ago Stanthorpe police prepared a report outlining the road safety issues stemming from the way international licences were granted.

The report was submitted to (the police hierarchy ) but Stanthorpe police station officer in charge Senior Sergeant Mark Ireland said nothing more was said.

"Nothing came of it, there's nothing more we can do from our responsibilities here," Snr Sgt Ireland said.

"All we can do is report and identify the issues which we have.

"I would assume that it (the report) has gone through our chain of command but we haven't been alerted of any outcome."

Snr Sgt Ireland said it was hard to

identify the exact reasons behind international drivers' poor driving habits, but he said complacency was one of their biggest faults, and not only on the road.

"Once again it's difficult to say, the vast majority we deal with are flat out trying to speak the language," he said.

"Not being one who has ventured overseas to any extent I'm not sure what traffic signs they have over there.

"The main issues that we have with some sections of the internationals are they are very complacent in both their driving and generally. They leave cars open, houses open, assuming nothing will happen."

So what is the solution?

Snr Sgt Ireland said it would be a huge task to test the driving of the thousands of foreigners who enter Queensland every year.

He said at the moment the most that can be done is education on a local level.

"We're focusing on education and we're focusing on enforcement in the Stanthorpe area of all traffic regulations, and in particular the ones causing us the most concerns which are the stop signs and give-way signs," he said.

"We did a talk to about 350 backpackers at one of the farms recently, but as far as I'm aware two of them who had been at the lecture were booked for traffic offences.

"If they (farmers) are employing a large number of (foreign) people we are willing to go along and give an education session."

It's something Chandler McLeod senior consultant Sue Frances is all for.

Ms Frances deals with thousands of backpackers looking for work on the Granite Belt each season.

She said members of the community who deal with backpackers on a regular basis should sit down and discuss possible solutions.

"We need to have a round table sit-down with us and the people who deal with the backpackers, and the police, and see what we can do as a community," Ms Frances said.

"It needs to be a collaborative approach."

Thousands of backpackers flock to the region each year, and Ms Frances said it was the number and a combination of other factors that were causing the problems.

"They are young and a lot of them are inexperienced drivers. The level of English too. And some of them would have been driving on the other side of the road," she said.

"You've got to factor in alcohol and those sorts of things.

"Everybody says that something should be done but it's a complex problem, there needs to be a lot more discussion."

Ms Frances said the immediate solution was providing more education and delivering it in a more effective manner.

"If there could be a brochure available, something small but high impact of the dangers impacting these people, that would be good," she said.

"We do have maps here with the road rules in different languages but I don't think it's high impact enough.

"It's peak season now, all the accommodation's full and there's thousands of backpackers here so the potential (for there) to be an accident is much higher now."

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