Backpackers make final preparations for their trip to Fraser Island before boarding the barge at River Heads yesterday.
Backpackers make final preparations for their trip to Fraser Island before boarding the barge at River Heads yesterday. ALISTAIR BRIGHTMAN

Lethal mix creates Fraser danger

BAD DRIVING, young people thinking they’re indestructible and constantly changing beach conditions ... blend those ingredients together and you unfortunately get death and destruction on Fraser Island.

That was the comment yesterday from Fraser Coast 4WD Operators Association president Dave Robertson in the wake of Sunday’s fatality on the island.

He was not alone in his assessment, as many others the Chronicle spoke to about the accident endorsed his analysis.

“The key point is it’s extremely difficult to control how individual people drive on the beach.

“There is also no point in saying the tourist might not have died if the new State Government 4WD laws had already have been introduced.”

Fraser Island Association president David Anderson said: “That vehicle was not a troop carrier and there was nothing loaded on to its roof.

“Speed doesn’t seem to have been involved but we know the vehicle was fitted out to carry seven people and that eight were travelling in it.

“I was there after the crash. So one person – at least – wasn’t wearing a seatbelt. But that sort of thing does happen – an extra passenger – after the tourists pick up their hire vehicle.”

In the wake of the island’s 114 4WD crash casualties in just five years, police yesterday were still interviewing witnesses.

“If any charges are laid they will come before the coroner’s inquiry,” a spokesman said.

The owner of the wrecked 4WD, Mike Dwyer of Aussie Trax, was said to be “very upset”.

Mr Robertson said he had spoken with Mr Dwyer on Sunday and could tell he was “very, very down”.

“He’s a good solid 4WD hire operator who does it right. This shouldn’t have happened to him.”

Mr Dwyer did not return the Chronicle’s calls yesterday.

Col Pearce, an island regular for the past 30 years, said inexperience was the trouble with 90 per cent of tourists driving on the island.

“Driving over here is a particular science; you have to be able to drive in changing sand conditions and not even the most experienced drivers can get it right all of the time,” he said.

“Young people think they’re indestructible. They come over here and euphoria takes over, the rest of the world is left behind.”

Mr Anderson said a lot of effort went into teaching tourists about dingoes but that driving on the island had caused more death and injuries than dingoes ever would.

“There needs to be a better education campaign,” he said.

The region’s 4WD hire operators say they spend as much as an hour educating tourists who come to hire vehicles.

“It’s part of our association’s code of conduct safety briefing,” Mr Robertson said.

“We screen a 15-minute video as an overview and what they need to look out for. We go through tide times and current driving conditions.

“We also refuse some people their request to hire if we believe they have a language barrier in understanding what we say and show them. We insist instead they come on a guided tour.”

Mr Robertson’s daughter, Brooke Robertson, said their company, Safari 4WD Hire, had been in business 14 years “and we have never sent a car out without a safety briefing”.

“Unless someone is sitting in that car or leading that car along you can’t make those decisions for them. Sometimes people treat hire cars differently from how they treat their own vehicles.”

Transport Minister Rachel Nolan and Mr Robertson spoke on Sunday after the crash.

“She is trying to fast-track the incoming tag-along tour legislation,” Mr Robertson said. “She is talking to Kate Jones, the environment minister.”

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