Two horror smashes involving international drivers in the Great Ocean Road hinterland has led to a call for upgrades to roads linking the popular tourist route with Melbourne.
In January, a head-on collision led to the deaths of two overseas tourists after their car crossed onto the wrong side of the road and collided with a local man in a four-wheel-drive on the Princetown Road at Cooriemungle.
In October, six people were taken to hospital when an international tourist passed a truck on a bend near Simpson, causing a crash.
Local resident and Corangamite Shire councillor Simon Illingworth said tourist buses and hire car drivers returning to Melbourne drove through the hinterland, often at dusk when visibility was poor and fatigue had set in.
“There’s not one bus operator that does the Ocean Road to the Apostles and drives the Ocean Road back, they are all going through Simpson. Those roads are in really poor condition and, even if they weren’t, they’re not suitable for the busloads of people,” he said.
“They cut through from the Great Ocean Road to the highway through Simpson and they forget what side of the road they should be on because there is not as much traffic around.”
Speaking following the Princetown crash, Senior Sergeant Shane Keogh said muscle memory and fatigue were huge problems among international drivers.
He said large arrows painted on the road was one way to improve safety. “There has to be additional things we can do to make driving along the Great Ocean Road safer for the hundreds of thousands of people who use it every year,” he said.
Cr Illingworth said road upgrades were desperately needed to increase safety for locals and visitors.
“We need federal money to create a loop so they can get back on decent roads.”
He said every local resident had a horror story to tell of crashes or near misses and many believed it was only a matter of time before a “mega crash” resulted in large loss of life.
“Everyone is so worried down here. We’re just waiting for the crash between a milk tanker and a tourist bus or something terrible like that.”
Cr Illingworth said the driving style of many overseas visitors in and around the Great Ocean Road was unpredictable.
“What we find down here is they will see a koala and just stop the car,” he said.
“What we’re seeing aren’t normal crashes, we’re seeing really, really nasty crashes.”
He said more designated areas for drivers to pull over and better signage, especially at car park exits, were required.
“At our end, you practically can’t overtake between the Twelve Apostles and Port Campbell and there’s nowhere for people to pull over. Often they do pull over where there is double lines,” the Port Campbell resident said.
“A lot of these crashes are occurring coming out of car parks. Keep left dividers or arrows that go deep into the car parks means once they get to the intersection they are on the correct side.”
He said drivers were often travelling long distances in a day and did not have much experience on the road.
“A lot of people who come here, particularly from China, are non-drivers in their own country – they’re not very experienced and they’re coming to a place where you really have to know your stuff,” he said.
But Cr Illingworth said the answers were not clean cut.
“Whatever country is prosperous at the time are the nationality of people that come here. We might have a surge of people from India, or from the States and at the moment they’re from China, so it’s not a one size fits all, it’s quite a dilemma.”