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What Was That All About?

FEATURE BY GLEN CROMPTON
01/04/2010

The last thing I really want to discuss right now is Lewis Hamilton's encounter with the constabulary at my local GP. Plenty has already been said, in fact too much. Commentaries range from the surprisingly valid to the utterly mad. The commentators range from public forums to senior police, from tabloid hacks to government ministers with penchants for calling one of the best drivers in the world a dickhead. Even Mark Webber weighed in with a clumsy attempt at defending his fellow F1 competitor which resulted in a harsh rebuke from the local police. Ironic that clumsy driving by Mark late in the GP saw him diminish his and Lewis' finishing places.

So that's what's driven me to have my say when I should be typing about a reasonably interesting GP weekend. Problem is, I was there when it happened - right across the road having dinner with my family. I had no idea the driver in question was a world champion. Were I a crack journalist, I'd have been all over it. You'd have read about it first on Pitpass and there'd have been supporting video footage filmed with my mobile phone. I am not a crack journalist (most would say not a journalist at all), I didn't video it and, quite frankly, I barely noticed it. My only reaction was to comment that given the time lapse twixt tyre squeal and ensuing police siren, the driver in question couldn't be all that observant - though they may not have been the exact words.

Some backdrop is due. The laws Lewis is supposed to have broken were framed in response to a very real problem. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of families here are left grieving or coping with the long term consequences of needless road accidents. All too often the precipitant error comes from a young driver. Of course the press is ever-ready with stories of illicitly organised drag racing on public roads though actual annual fatalities stemming from this absurd behaviour number in the tens or less.

But we have a populist system of voting in governments and, perhaps unsurprisingly, that system has a history of seeding legislation which favours voting trends over common sense. Which is to say that which the press makes most popular is that which is most often legislated upon. In this case, the government created what are known as the "hoon laws." They are tough and penalties include impounding the vehicle in which the offence was committed. There is talk of upping the legislative ante and sending the vehicles of recidivists to the crusher.

The car Lewis was driving was impounded albeit only for a matter of days. Therein you begin to see the one of many critical flaws in the approach of the governments responsible. The car Lewis was driving was not his. For all I know he probably had another one at his disposal by daybreak the following morning. There have been cases where similar laws have resulted in mechanics' test drives of customer cars resulting in impounding and of course parents' cars have suffered the same fate in the hands of errant children. I call it bad legislation and the impounding of Lewis' loaner serves only to underscore my view.

I absolutely do not question the need to address this problem just the means by which it has been done. The government that enacted the hoon laws has done nothing to address the most basic problem, that of road licensing. The license test in Victoria, to me at least, remains a pathetic joke. I could go on at length about this but I shall spare you. The one thing I can say with personal conviction is that the testing system to gain a road license in this state does not prove much about your ability to drive an automobile in any meaningful sense.

Lewis' incident took place on Fitzroy Street - the main vehicle access point to the Albert Park complex. Fitzroy Street is a wonderful, popular, cosmopolitan restaurant, bar and café strip with plenty of sidewalk tables. The roadway is a broad dual lane, dual carriageway separated by dual tram lines. Even when the GP is not in town, this heady mix of wide road and abundant audience is something of a magnet for those who believe that the best way to impress members of the opposite gender comes down to loud exhausts, sharp stabs on the throttle and antics which greatly reduce tyre life. I'd boldly suggest that most of the perpetrators do not possess Lewis' car control.

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