Thursday, July 30, 2009

Four Wheel Drive Enthusiasts To Become Outlaws

It’s not a story on the front pages of the newspapers, and you probably won’t see it on the six o’clock news, but people around New South Wales are pretty annoyed about changes to the regulations for vehicle modifications. Earlier this month, the roads minister Michael Daley announced that from the 1st of August new rules would apply to the raising and lowering of vehicles, a measure which he said was intended to target “hoons” and improve safety. But the fact is that “hoons” are not the only people affected.

Until now, the law has allowed car owners to raise or lower their vehicles by up to 5 centimetres without engineering approval, and up to 15 centimetres with certification from an authorized engineer. From the 1st of August however, all such suspension modifications will be restricted to a maximum of 5 centimetres, and all such modifications will require an engineer’s certificate. What this means, as far as I can determine, is that law abiding people who have made such modifications under the existing rules, in good faith, are now about to be made into outlaws overnight.

The minister, in his press release, said, “I don’t want to see young hoons putting their lives or the lives of others at risk, just because they think their car looks better 15 centimetres closer to the ground.” Of course, no sensible person wants to see lives put at risk by “young hoons” or anyone else, but that statement is completely at odds with the current requirement for engineering approval for modifications between 5 and 15 centimetres. No engineer who values his reputation is going to approve any modification which is not safe, and yet with the stroke of a ministerial pen something which was officially safe one day will become unsafe the next.

Of course, the use of the word “hoon” gives us a clue of what the intent of the minister must be, especially when his discussion has focused on people who lower their cars because they think it makes them look good. He would seem to be talking about the “Tokyo Drift” crowd who like to drive modified Japanese turbo sports cars and get involved in street racing. While hoons and street racers do indeed pose a risk to public safety, it is their driving behavior and their disregard for the law which pose the greatest risk, not the modifications to their cars.

The problem is that a law which seems to have been intended for antisocial troublemakers is also impacting on sensible law abiding people who are car enthusiasts, as well as rural people who have four wheel drive vehicles which have been raised for increased ground clearance in the bush, but also need to be driven on the road. It would appear that the minister has given absolutely no consideration to the idea that there might be people who have legitimate reasons for their modifications and who are not hoons, road racers, or villains.

But unfortunately from the 1st of August they will be outlaws.

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