Coming to grips with the scourge of fangin’ hoons
There is nothing like an election campaign to get politicians into theatrical stunt mode. State elections often become bidding wars on crime and there is hardly a state in Australia where our politicians haven’t tried to demonstrate their toughness by advocating so-called “hoon” laws under which ratbag drivers have their cars confiscated and crushed.
Having spent much of my life living in a hoon haven suburb of inner-west Sydney, where boofheads in souped-up Skylines and WRXs would habitually fang it along Norton St, Sydney’s Lygon St equivalent, I have no personal issue with the concept of crushing cars. Save for the fact that the stupider and most reckless offenders aren’t sitting behind the wheel when their cars are flattened. Hoon driving is a genuine scourge in this country, not only is it obviously dangerous, it is also deeply irritating, and habitually tops the list of number-one concerns of law-abiding folks in Australian suburbia.
Nice though the idea of crushing their cars sounds, the only problem with it is that it also appears to be illegal. The Supreme Court ruled this month that mandatory legislated car crushing denies judges their right to discretion, and as such is unconstitutional.
Despite this ruling there are plenty of governments and councils which are still ploughing on with plans to bring in the toughest anti-hoon legislation the nation has ever seen. There is a proposal in Queensland whereby the cars of hoon drivers would be impounded for three months after the first serious offence. Any driver who reoffends within five years would have their car forfeited, to be sold or crushed.
The proposals have sparked the typical knee-jerk nonsense from car owners who seem to think that it is a human rights violation if they are told that they’re not allowed to do circle-work in their early model Commodore at 80kmh in a built-up area.
One car club has even suggested that if the hoon laws are introduced the Queensland Government (ie the taxpayers) should pay to create a special sanctuary where blokes who are a bit light on in the trouser department can get together to drop the clutch with impunity and get their jollies behind the wheel.
It’s an interesting and broad new definition of what the role of government is, and given Queensland Premier Campbell Newman has declared war on profligate public spending, it’s a call which will surely be met with the laughter it deserves.
Instead of persisting with these theatrical car-crushing laws, governments would do well to look instead at how the existing laws can be applied with great effect to combat ratty driving. One of the worst areas in Melbourne for hoon drivers is the western suburbs around Sunbury and Hume.
However, over the past couple of years, the police have been doing a good job within the existing laws of impounding vehicles which are driven by halfwits. In 2011 the number of vehicle impoundments increased by about 20 per cent to more than 4,140 compared, which is an increase of more than 1000 on the previous year.
The statistics tell an interesting but probably not surprising story, which goes to the broader criminality of people who drive like nongs. In addition to being charged with speeding offences and the improper use of a motor vehicle, many of these drivers are also driving while suspended or disqualified. As such impounding their cars seems like a great idea, especially if the relevant department is painfully slow at going through the paperwork to determine whether their silly cars can ever be un-impounded, if that is indeed a word.
There’s a role for education in all this, and the schools obviously do a pretty good job facilitating road safety lessons. It’s also harder in all Australian states to get your L-plates and your P-plates than it was, even though those younger (and male) drivers are massively over-represented in the crash and death statistics, for the simple reason that young blokes like to show off.
To that end the role of education could be amped up even more to tell young blokes that driving is not an extension of their masculinity. The controversial “little finger” advertisements in NSW – in which women wave their pinkie at young hoons, to suggest that they’re probably a bit under-endowed and are using their car to make up for it – have been targeted for causing road rage whereby people who mimic the gesture end up getting clocked over the head with a tyre iron. Whatever the case the sentiment behind the ads is a valid one.
The thing which always puzzles me about this behaviour is that it reflects a pathetic desire to be the centre of attention. The noise aspect of hoon driving is its most irritating feature, not unlike bikers who remove their mufflers so their hog deafens the innocent as it pulls up at the lights.
One idea which is totally unfeasible but nevertheless appealling would be to modify every jacked-up WRX and every massive Harley so that when the turbo kicks in or you pull back the throttle, the engine automatically plays Greensleeves or possibly Yakketty Sax from the Benny Hill show, just to highlight the genuine ridiculousness of those who think there is something manly about driving loudly, and stupidly, and driving everyone else mad.
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