22 July 2009

The "Car Hoons" news release

On Thursday, 16th July 2009, NSW Minister for Roads, Michael Daley MP released a News Release titled Tough New Rules for Car Hoons.

The intent of the announcement was ostensibly to crack down on "car hoons" who drive vehicles that the minister thinks are unsafe.

Unfortunately, the content of the news release is factually inaccurate and the minister (or whoever wrote the news release for him) clearly either does not know or understand the content of the NSW RTA Code of Practice for Light Vehicle Modifications, the Australian Design Rules and Schedule 2 of the Road Transport (Vehicle Registration) Regulation 2007, or is misrepresenting that code of practice and those legislative instruments.

The majority of the "car hoons" that the minister seeks to regulate more strictly are driving vehicles that are not legal. That's right, not legal. Some may have documentation that makes them appear legal, but proper inspection would reveal either that the vehicles are not consistent with that documentation or that the documentation has been issued in error. So, if the people that will be affected are not these "car hoons", who are they? The answer is almost everybody else.

Examples of people affected include ordinary motorists who replace sagged, worn out suspension springs in their vehicles; infrastructure corporations such as rail maintenance and electricity companies; farmers and hunters who have their vehicles raised for normal day to day farm operations; grey nomads who have heavy duty springs and tyres fitted to their 4WDs so that they can tow their caravan or camping trailer to visit remote parts of the country; predominantly family oriented 4WD enthusiasts and clubs; charity groups who are helped by 4WD clubs to take terminally ill children to places that they couldn't otherwise access; environmental rehabilitation groups who are assisted in removing rubbish by 4WD clubs; emergency response groups including SES; 4WD tour operators; participants in charity bashes; the residents of remote communities for whom 4WD tourism is the basis of their local economy; hot rod and modified car owners and all of the industries that support these people in their activities.

What is the minister's definition of a "car hoon"? Elsewhere, he refers to "young hoons". Given that some of the people affected are senior citizens, what is the minister's definition of "young"?

The real problem is that the government have starved the RTA and Police Force of the funding required to effectively operate, let alone training Inspectors for Vehicle Regulation (IVRs) and Police Officers, and to assist in ongoing review and training of Engineering Signatories to ensure that the existing system operates as intended. This is not just my personal opinion, but is based upon public and private statements made by IVRs, police officers, RTA staff and other signatory engineers since the current labor government, then led by Bob Carr, came to power in 1995.

For example, a few years ago, a Highway Patrol police officer stated in a usenet news group that they couldn't get funds to purchase paper for their photocopier, but that they could use petrol that cost more than the paper and waste considerable time to drive to another station and back to collect a ream of paper, because the fuel was in a different budget.

As an engineering signatory, I have offered to run a training "question and answer" sessions for local Highway Patrol Police Officers several times over the past decade. The officers and Patrol Commander that I suggested it to were positive about the idea, but it went no further because there is simply no funding available to do it.

So we have unsafe, illegally modified vehicles being driven on the roads, with the Police and RTA not having the resources and training necessary to detect and defect all of those vehicles. The minister's solution is to change the rules, thinking that the vehicles are actually legal because they haven't been defected. The new rules can only be described as draconian, misguided and almost certainly unworkable. The irony is that they won't have the slightest effect on the illegally modified vehicles that were ostensibly the target. Drivers of illegally modified vehicles will continue to operate those vehicles outside the law, regardless of how strict those laws are made.

So lets take a look at a few statements from the news release.

  • "At the moment, vehicles can be raised or lowered by up to 5 centimetres without approval, and by up to 15 centimetres with authorised engineering approval."

The statement is completely and utterly false. It may have come about from an attempt to simplify the actual rules, but the result is nowhere the truth. Under the existing Code of Practice, vehicles can be raised or lowered by up to 1/3 of the original suspension clearance without requiring certification. This is a direct function of the vehicle design, varying from less than 20mm on some cars to around 70mm on some 4WD vehicles.

The 15cm limit with an engineering certificate does not exist in any way, shape or form. To raise or lower a vehicle by more than the 1/3 of suspension clearance described above, the design of suspension must be changed or an entirely different suspension fitted in place of the original. In these situations, the design of the suspension and the position of that suspension relative to the chassis rails will determine the resulting height of the vehicle. This means that there is no defined 15cm limit. For example, a light commercial vehicle from the 1920s to 1950s that is fitted with more modern suspension components might be lowered by more than 15cm, bringing its front bumper bar to around the same height as a modern vehicle, and hence improving not only its handling and braking but also its compatibility with modern vehicles in a crash.

If the existing 1/3 of suspension clearance rule is replaced with a blanket 50mm limit with certification, as proposed, many cars will now be able to be lowered further than is presently legal, and well beyond the vehicle manufacturer's recommendations. The initial version of Vehicle Standards Information sheet 50, the RTA policy document that attempts to implement this ministerial directive is ambiguous on this point.

  • "I don't want to see young hoons putting their lives or the lives of others at risk, just because they think their car looks better 15 centimetres closer to the ground."

This statement is remarkable in how it shows how out of touch with reality the minister is. For cars newer than the 1960s, it would be a genuine struggle to physically lower them by 15cm without major modifications. Even ignoring for a moment the legislated requirement for a minimum ground clearance of 10cm (or more depending on wheelbase), the physical modifications required to lower a car 15cm would essentially require the removal of the entire suspension and could certainly never be legal. On a few models of 4WD passenger vehicles, lowering them can be physically possible because they are a raised version of a normal height car, but they cannot be legal at that height because they change ADR category (MC to MA) due to that lowered height, and they cannot be shown to comply with the ADR requirements for that changed category.

Perhaps the minister can name a model of car popular with "young hoons" that has an original ground clearance of at least 25cm, such that it can be lowered 15cm and still comply with the ADRs and maintain the legally required 10cm?

  • "It can affect handling, braking and safety features such as electronic stability control."

A correct statement, but the assumption that the effect is automatically negative is remarkably naiive, as is the assumption that vehicles where these are negatively affected will be legal.

Many older vehicles that are lowered are done so as part of modernising the suspension and improving the vehicle dynamics including handling and braking. Such vehicles usually have their other safety features improved at the same time, such as by fitting seatbelts, a collapsible steering column, windscreen washers and demister and improved windscreen wipers. Encouraging such vehicles to continue to be driven without these modifications would be to discourage safety improvements.

Modern safety features already limit the extent of modifications that can be carried out on vehicles. For example, because the dynamics of how the front of a vehicle collapses in a crash are critical to the operation of SRS airbags, 4WD vehicles that are equipped with SRS airbags cannot be fitted with a body lift, (spacing the body up on the chassis) unless it is possible to prove that the SRS system will not be adversely affected by the body lift. To date, I have never seen such proof for any vehicle model, and body lifts are not legally fitted to any SRS airbag equipped vehicle that I know of.

For vehicles where ESC is fitted, a similar situation applies, with alterations in suspension height and tyre diameter being restricted. As I understand it, aftermarket companies in the USA now offer "piggyback" computers to re-tune the ESC system to compensate for suspension height and tyre diameter changes. Aftermarket companies in Australia already offer re-tuning kits for ESC on several models of car. This needs to be addressed specifically for ESC equipped vehicles rather than trying to apply a rule relating to ESC to vehicles that are not fitted with it. When there is an Australian Design Rule that mandates the performance of ESC, such recalibration will be mandatory for continued ADR compliance.

  • "Raising a vehicle's suspension can also reduce the driver's ability to see pedestrians and cyclists, and higher headlights can startle other road users,"

Is the minister allowing Harold Scruby to write his speeches for him?

Raising a vehicle within the limits of safe and predictable handling and within the ADR prescribed limits for light heights, including the ADR prescribed legal maximum height for headlights effectively limits any adverse reduction in vision of pedestrians and cyclists close to the vehicle while improving vision of people and objects further away.

For vehicles 1994 and newer, ADR 8/01 also prescribes a Primary Vision Area, and legal raising of such vehicles is limited by the ability to maintain compliance with that requirement.

An ADR compliant headlight installed at a height within the prescribed limits of the ADRs and adjusted in accordance with those rules is legal in NSW according to the Road Transport (Vehicle Registration) Regulation 2007.

Again, the minister appears to be confusing illegally modified vehicles with legally modified vehicles.

If the minister is genuinely concerned about vehicle lights startling other drivers, it would be far more productive for him to act upon the continued widespread illegal use of front and rear fog lights and the failure of the checking of headlight aim during registration inspections. It is over a decade since an RTA IVR told my then employer to "at least wipe the dust off the top" of his headlight aim testing machine "so that it looks like it has been used". Judging by the number of vehicles driving around with obviously misaimed headlights today, this problem appears to remain widespread.

  • "Mr Daley said any vehicle being raised or lowered would require certification stating the modifications conform to safety standard requirements."

This proposal means that many vehicles that presently wouldn't require certification will require certification in the future. Leaving aside the issue of how it is determined whether a vehicle was raised before or after the implementation of these new rules, there are the connected issues of the fact that many new vehicles are raised within this range by rural new vehicle dealers before delivery, and the availability and distribution of engineering signatories across the state. Quite simply, the economic implications of requiring certification of these vehicles are staggering and the limited availability of signatory engineers makes it virtually impossible to implement.

  • "The changes also mean any modifications must meet specific requirements such as the vehicle having at least 10 centimetres ground clearance."

This is a misrepresentation of the current situation. Regardless of whether a vehicle is certified or not, the 10cm minimum ground clearance requirement is already an enforceable requirement within Schedule 2 of the Road Transport (Vehicle Registration) Regulation 2007. It is not a new requirement. I also understand that regulations governing licensed vehicle repairers makes it an offence for them to modify a registrable vehicle such that it does not comply with the ADRs or state regulations. Again, the minister appears unfamiliar with the existing legislation and appears to be confusing illegally modified vehicles with legally modified vehicles.

  • "Vehicles raised above the 5 centimetre limit will only be granted conditional registration for use under specified conditions like competing in an off road competition."

This assumes that vehicles raised by more than 5cm are not "daily use" vehicles. That is an assumption that many people in rural NSW would dispute. During the debate about banning bullbars in urban areas a few years ago, one farmer who had to travel to Sydney on a regular basis to take his then pregnant wife to see a specialist asked whether this would mean that he would have to unbolt the bullbar from his vehicle and chain it to a post on the side of the Great Western Highway on every trip. Conditional registration that limits the use of raised vehicles in the city, as Mr Daley's policy advisor has apparently stated as being part of the intent, would seem to imply that rural people would have to change their suspension during each trip. An obviously absurd and impossible proposition.

This also assumes that the vehicle owner is rich enough to pay to buy an additional vehicle and pay for registration and insurance on an additional vehicle. So much for the Aussie Battler.

I note that the method of implementation of this announcement is by way of a policy document issued by the RTA, and not by legislation. It is extremely worrying that the rule has not been the subject of parliamentary scrutiny and has not apparently been the subject of any consultation with any affected groups outside the RTA.

I call upon the minister to immediately order that Vehicle Standards Information sheet 50 be rescinded, and given that the minister appears to have displayed gross incompetence and appears to have lost the confidence of a significant portion of the voting population of NSW, I call upon the minister to resign.

14 comments:

matthew said...

Thank you for outlining a sensible approach. why do we have to live with such incompetence?????

K Moore said...

Thanks Athol. You have used knowledge, experience, logic and common sense to articulate a response to changes made by a Minister who appears incapable of using any of the above tools, and who seems unprepared to openly canvas and discuss issues within the industry and with individuals and related motoring organizations.

Sadly, the ineptness of this Minister is representative of systemic failure of the NSW Government to get on with managing issues that really matter to voters.

I join with you and call upon the Minister to resign.

K Moore.

brian.timms said...

In the news bulletin release, the Minister also said "any vehicle raised or lowered beyond 5cm has no place on NSW roads".

I would like to pass across to the minister the question of disabled access wheel chair Taxi's. Do they still have a place on NSW roads, with the obvious rear tail of the vehicle raised an approximate 15+cm from stock height? How does the Minister propose wheel-chair bound people get around if we remove this 'highly illegal' vehicles.

I have actually attempted to get comment from the Minister and from the Hon. Nathan Reese (Premier of NSW) in regards to this press release, both with no reply.

My next vote will not support this group.

L Thompson said...

Thank you Athol.

Again yet another knee jerk reaction from the government.

I most certainly will not be placing my vote with a government that can not show the general public voter..yes that's right we all are voters as well! The common decency of a warning and sufficient time to allow anyone that needs to a chance to be able to comply with this new law. A law that was so obviously not well thought about in its delivery, timing and execution.

Yours faithfully

Ms "Hoon"

Linc said...

Athol, did you really expect the minister to muddy the discussion by including "facts"?

Great blog, I "Stumbled" it!

Hulksta said...

Well said Athol and straight to the point and full of actual facts that clearly show how smart Mr Daley insn't

Mathew said...

Great letter. Very well written and researched. I love it.

Have you submitted it to your local member or the RTA? If so, I would be keen to hear the response.

Anonymous said...

Michael Daley M.P.

office@daley.minister.nsw.gov.au

More contact info here:
http://www.directory.nsw.gov.au/showminister.asp?id={FB7ED2BA-DE43-4B14-90FB-439A9C15DEF4}

Hulksta said...

Hi Athol,
I found the following information and thought i would share it with you.
Cheers
Dan

As discussed it is appreciated that the relase of VSI 50 may impact on work already in progress and the RTA is prepared to allow you defer registering your modified vehicle after the 1 august deadline. In order to do so, please provide me with the following information:
* your name and address as they appear on your current rego papers
* the make model and rego number of the subject vehicle
* the nature of the work being undertaken
* the reasons why the vehicle is being modified outside the 50mm limits specifeid in VSI 50 and
* the likely completion date of the modifications.

Once i receive this information i will ensure you are granted an extension to the july deadline and to allow the modifed vehicle to be registered without conditions.
best wishes
Dan Leavy
Principle Policy Manager, Light

David said...

Athol,

As an engineering signatory you get to see the best and worst of both sides. For many years I have been a member of a number of web forums you share your views with and as always you take a pragmatic and sensible approach to these issues.

I have been through the rigors of certifying my 4x4 and would not have it any other way.

My biggest concern is vehicle manufactures for many years now make numerous compromises for the sake of cost, engineering simplicity and mostly appealing to a wider market segment. 4x4's are a perfect case in point where only a small handful could be driven from the show room floor into a rugged country environment an withstand minimal or no damage. Fr vehicles that the owner chooses to use for a purpose these comprises have a big impact and is the main driver for the modifications in the first place. What options will we have in the future when manufacturers choose to produce all 4x4's as soft off roaders ???

Maybe this will see the comeback of boutique manufactures like the days of old. If only it was so expensive to get through ADR's for a new vehicle compliance

The current NSW government would have struggled to get my vote but have now put the last nail in the coffin I support your call for the minister to reign

Modern Australia may well be past the need for state governments and need them abolished but that is a whole new debate

AmBaal said...

All this needs is publicity.
And voting out incompetent fools who have as little touch with the reality or a matter they are supposed to govern as physically possible.

Science can learn a lot from someone that incompetent.

Athol Mullen said...

By now, most people reading this will have heard that Roads Minister, Michael Daley, has done a rather large backflip and "delayed" the introduction of these new rules.

I'd urge everyone to got to http://www.nothoons.com.au/ and sign the petition that Shadow Roads Minister, Andrew Stoner, has started. I understand that it will be presented to the minister when parliament next sits.

Hulksta said...

Yes its great news Athol! We will not stop here tho, there is more to be done in the fight for this to be gone.. and it will be gone!

Anonymous said...

thanks for the well researched and informative article. genuinely disturbing to have our transport systems moderated by such a government. it's true, we can't have people like this running the country. not personal, just the way it is.