In recent times a number of arguments have been made against instituting a curfew on teenagers' driving on the basis that this will preclude them from attending night time classes at university, or commuting to part time and casual jobs. Although compelling, conspicuously absent in much of the debate has been a proper assessment of the state of public transport as a viable alternative to driving during the curfew times.
Until such time that the government can ensure a more reliable and safe transport system any call to impose some kind of curfew on teenagers needs to be reconsidered. For example the Waterfall Train Crash Inquiry report released earlier this year highlighted a “weak safety culture” in the NSW public transport system. Some commentators went so far as to call for a criminal investigation into negligence within the State Rail Authority (SRA). Aside from these safety issues there is a fundamental need for government to provide a more effective public transport system. Evidence suggests that despite cutting nearly 1,500 rail services in Sydney to make the system more efficient - more and more trains are coming late. A recent study showed how only 14 per cent of trains ran on time during peak hour (see ABC News Online, August 2, 2004). To make matters worse the SRA has recently ratified a policy acknowledging trains as “On Time” even though they are running up to 11 minutes behind schedule. It would be interesting to see the statistics on just how many commuters (young and old) have been assaulted while waiting for public transport.
Of course this presupposes that public transport even operates during the proposed curfew times, an issue that is of particular relevance for teenagers residing in regional and remote areas.
Further, the empirical grounds on which the curfew is premised need to be scrutinised most rigorously. According to one study, people aged 16 to 20 represent seven per cent of all drivers but account for 18 per cent of all fatalities - a number said to increase to 25 per cent between 10pm and 2pm. While concerning, this evidence may be insufficient in itself to justify an oppressive curfew like the one being mooted. What is the age composition of drivers at this time of night, and are under 20 year olds disproportionately represented on the roads in the first place?
In addition, there are a number of other reasons why the curfew should be challenged. The curfew, which seeks to restrict from the roads those up to the age of 21, may constitute a material erosion of civil liberties. Can we really say that someone aged over 18, while deemed to be an adult for every other exigency arising under law, is not to be considered an adult for the purpose of driving?
It must also be asked whether the police really have the resources to enforce this provision. Police officers could spend half of their time having to pull over young drivers prepared to run the risk and drive 20 minutes after the curfew kicks in for the evening.
While we are at it, should we legislate a ban on other activities that can result in death? Alcohol, for example, is often consumed in copious amounts late at night and during the early hours of the morning, thus giving rise to deaths.
The difference is that alcohol does not get you to and from university or a job. And it certainly does not prevent you from being assaulted whilst waiting for a train (if a train is even running at that time)!
As a university student with a part-time job I would implore the government not to pass the curfew. We cannot simply restrict all activities that are intrinsically dangerous. The vicissitudes of life mean that teenagers need their cars at night just as much as everyone else!
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