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Shepparton police urging drivers to be careful this Fatality Free Friday

By Liz Mellino

With coronavirus restrictions meaning less traffic on local roads over the past two months, one might think there would fewer motorists breaking the law.

However it seems this is not the case in Shepparton, with local police noticing a spike in speeding motorists and drivers high on drugs.

It comes after the Australian Road Safety Foundation's latest research revealed three quarters of regional Victorian drivers admitted to being heavy footed when behind the wheel - with this number increasing by 18 per cent during the COVID-19 restrictions.

“We have noticed that speeding offences - an area where we hoped with less traffic on the roads they would be greatly reduced - we are finding we're getting more motorists engaging in higher speeds which is a concern,” Shepparton Highway Patrol Sergeant Janne Kennedy said.

“Whether (motorists) feel they've got the freedom of the road or they're distracted through high stress levels due to COVID-19 people are getting in a bit of a pattern or habit.

“There is the concern that when traffic is back to normal these drivers will still be in the habit of speeding.”

Sgt Kennedy said it was disappointing that Highway Patrol members had detected a number of speeding motorists, doing well above the speed limit, on local roads over the past few months.

An act she described simply as "dangerous", Sgt Kennedy said such excessive speeds could result in an immediate loss of licence.

“Last Wednesday I sat outside the Kialla West Primary School and (during this time) two people lost their licence for exceeding the speed limit in a 40 km/h zone,” she said.

“As soon you're 25 km/h over the speed limit you receive a penalty but part of that is a loss of licence for a period . . . it's just dangerous.”

Shepparton Highway Patrol Sergeant Janne Kennedy is urging drivers to be safe this Fatality Free Friday.

Sgt Kennedy said Highway Patrol officers patrolled the Kialla West school crossing on a regular basis for a number of reasons, including a serious collision which occurred at the site in 2018.

Despite flashing 40 km/h signs installed on either side of the school crossing she said police regularly detected motorists in the area doing the wrong thing.

“Most of the locals would see the Highway Patrol cars in that location during school hours a lot, we’re not trying to hide, we’re in marked cars and we still manage to detect people,” Sgt Kennedy said.

The ASRF's latest research showed one third of the region's drivers admitted to taking increased road risks since the implementation of COVID-19 lock-downs.

The local statistics paint a similar picture with Shepparton Highway Patrol members detecting 21 drug drivers in April.

This was the highest number in a month for the year so far.

“There are many reasons why we may be getting a higher number of offences - with less traffic on the roads we are detecting people more easily,” Sgt Kennedy said.

“We are still out there PBT-ing people - we have got all the safety equipment and we can safely test drivers and minimise the risk.

“We are out there doing a lot of oral fluid tests so anyone who thinks during this period they can drink drive or drug drive will be mistaken.”

The ASRF research also showed the most common risks being taken during COVID-19 after speeding included using mobile phones behind the wheel or failing to stop at a stop sign.

While Sgt Kennedy said Shepparton police had not noticed an increase or decrease in mobile phone usage during the period, one quarter of regional Victorian drivers admitted to using their phone when behind the wheel and one half of drivers admitted to eating while driving.

“I'd encourage people to call Crime Stoppers if they know of any drivers out there committing offences that they believe they might be able to stop by reporting - such as drug drivers or unauthorised drivers,” she said.

“The reports come through to our office and we can investigate them.”

With Fatality Free Friday on today, Sgt Kennedy is urging all motorists to do the right thing when behind the wheel and take some responsibility for their driving behaviour.

The annual event has been running since 2007 with the aim of not just achieving a fatality-free Friday, but a longer term community change.

“We had a terrible year with road trauma last year in Greater Shepparton and we have had three fatalities here so far this year,” Sgt Kennedy said.

“I urge all drivers to drive safely and consider all other road users.

“Fatalities have a lasting effect - not just for the police members but the families of anyone involved including other first responders, witnesses, road users, Ambulance, firies, the lot . . . even the community, some people get upset just knowing a fatality has occurred in the street or the area.”

For more information on Fatality Free Friday visit www.arsf.com.au