New laws often come about as a response to tragedies. The state of South Australia, home to 1.8 million people, is treading that well-worn path with new laws regulating the use of "ultra high-powered vehicles" on the road.
The issue stems from a fatal crash in 2019 when 15-year-old Sophia Naismith was tragically struck and killed by an out-of-control Lamborghini Huracan driven by Alexander Campbell. After Campbell avoided jail with a suspended sentence last year, community backlash created a political case for change. As covered by Drive.com.au, the government has now implemented a raft of new road laws in response.
The laws designate a new class of "ultra high-powered vehicles" (UHPV). This covers any such vehicle with a power-to-weight ratio of 276 kW/metric tonne (407 horsepower/US ton) and a gross mass under 4.5 tonne (9920 pounds). Roughly 200 models are currently expected to fall into this classification, with buses and motorbikes exempt from the rules. This classification would notably include the Lamborghini Huracan, which boasts a power-to-weight ratio of 292 kW/tonne (431 hp/US ton). For reference, another sports car, the base Chevrolet Corvette, comes in at 242kW/ton and is not subject to these rules. The 670-horsepower Z06 version of that car is, though.
After December 1st, 2024, those wishing to drive a UHPV must hold a special 'U Class' license. Obtaining this license requires passing an online course currently in development by the government of the region, based in Adelaide. Furthermore, drivers must have held a regular car or heavy vehicle license for at least three years to be eligible for a U license. There will be no retroactive exemptions, with all current drivers wishing to drive UHPV-class cars required to take the course.
Another major change, as reported by MSN, makes it a criminal offense to disable traction control and other driver aids in an "ultra high-powered vehicle." Specifically, the rule applies to “anti-lock braking, automated emergency braking, electronic stability control or traction control” systems, but not lane-keeping assists and parking sensors.
Drivers breaking this rule will be subject to penalties of up to $5,000 AUD. However, reasonable defenses include switching off driver aids in conditions where justified, such as if the vehicle is stuck. Similarly, a further defense exists if the driver did not disable the system themselves and was unaware of the situation. They will have to prove that, of course.
Meanwhile, if a driver crashes while in "sports mode" or with traction control disabled, and that incident causes death or serious harm, the driver will be charged with an "aggravated offense" which comes with new harsher penalties. For example, prior to the change, the charge of "aggravated driving without due care causing death" carried a maximum 12-month jail penalty and six-month driving disqualification. That has now been upgraded to seven years in jail and three years of disqualification. This bears a direct relation to Campbell's crash, which was alleged to have happened indirectly due to the use of the Huracan's sports mode.
The rules will not apply to drivers from outside of South Australia driving through the state. A spokesperson for the Minister of Transport and Infrastructure confirmed to The Drive that drivers holding licenses from other states will be permitted to drive UHPV-classified vehicles without issue.
Questions should be raised as to whether a simple online course will make any real difference to safety on the roads. At the very least, penalties for driving without traction control and new harsher jail sentences might make certain drivers think twice.
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