Media & public perception
Within the Australian media the word hoon is synonymous with foolish and wild behaviour on the roads. There is no ambiguity in their adopted definition, and often young males are the perpetrators. Overuse in the word hoon incites public outcry and instils alarm within the population; there is a negative connotation in its very meaning. This public image of a hoon leads to stereotyping, which results in hasty generalisations on all fronts. Hoons are tarnishing the image of the automotive enthusiast and my hopes are to distinguish between the two. In my eyes, a hoon is ultimately an over-expressive individual, remorseless of the effects of their antics. They cannot see that their actions have impact on the safety of others, the automotive community, the limitations of the vehicles that they are driving, and general road regulations.
In contrast, having a passion for cars in our modern times serves as a practical disconnect from the information technology highway. In my eyes, an automotive enthusiast is an individual who appreciates and interacts with any given facet of an automobile; let it be through aesthetics, engineering, the art of driving & vehicle control, motorsports, cruising through the mountains, and car meets. They come from all different walks of life, across gender, religion, career, and socio-economic status – all with one common interest: a love for cars.
Victorian example of legislation & exercising power
The Victorian Police’s website section on Hoon Laws states that “they were introduced in Victoria in July 2006, and give police the power to impound, immobilise or permanently confiscate vehicles driven by people in a dangerous manner”. There is no arguing that there is a strong focus on targeting hoon behaviour within Victoria due to this precedent. Media campaigns, police operations and the presence of Highway Patrol enforcement allude to this. I have the utmost respect for police officers, especially those who uphold the law to the best of their abilities rather than those exercising their power in an excessive manner. I support that one of VicRoad’s core values is to “use our powers responsibly” and that one of their aims is to “minimise the impact of roads and traffic on the community and enhance the environment through the responsible planning and management of the transport system”. They do an outstanding job of creating a workable transport system, albeit with a rigorous registration and roadworthiness process. My gripe is based upon how they are regulated, enforced and interpreted by the law enforcers. Enthusiasts do enjoy modifying their vehicles, aesthetically and mechanically. A zero-tolerance approach allows for little freedom, especially for the automotive parts industry, where there is heavy research and development regimes to meet safety & engineering standards, particularly for performance & handling items.
There are great Australian aftermarket parts manufacturers and engineering programs who test on Australian roads to meet their customers’ needs. I struggle to see how items meeting strenuous motorsport regulations for handling & safety, may not meet roadworthy criteria. Additionally, wide tyres and reducing ride height are the common denominators to an enthusiast’s dreaded defect notice. Wider tyres can provide greater traction, especially useful in inclement conditions such as Melbourne’s temperamental weather, from a safety standpoint. Ride height clearance is set at 100mm which coincide with Australian standards of 100mm speed humps. A lower car also means a lower centre of gravity, which has the ability improve vehicle stability. What is neglected is that certain councils exceed the 100mm standard. Cars naturally low, for example supercars, suffer as a consequence. A car lower than 100mm is said to be susceptible to damaging council property. Car enthusiasts will usually only be guilty of driving over speed bumps with caution at an angle that minimises any potential damage to council property or their own vehicle undercarriage.
Additionally on an international scale, there are generally no standards for minimum ground clearance. Australian Design Rules (ADR) 43/04 is unique in this aspect. Even the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) regulations contain no clause on minimum ground clearance. The ADRs generally mirror these ECE regulations – it is a goal of the folks who create the ADRs to align with ECE regulations where possible. Alternatively, those that determine the ADRs have decided to include these minimum ground clearance requirements, despite no similar requirement in Europe. It has even been suggested during revisions of ADR 43 in 2006 that this requirement should be deleted, for consistency with the regulations in Europe. It would be great to clarify why this specific item is embodied within Australian confines as opposed to aligning with international harmonisation comparisons.
Defect stations are a great tool for enforcement as they are consistent in identifying roadworthy deviations. Traffic officers who patrol the roads also have the power to defect a vehicle, however there is a broad spectrum of interpretation in their exercising of power based on personal experience. This highlights the need for officer training, as some officers have zero tolerance where others are more considerate in their approach to handle the same situation. I invite greater initiative to target unroadworthy vehicles due to a lack of maintenance, with bald tyres, faded brakes, leaks, poor alignments, copious amounts of rust, and shot suspension. These vehicles are the actual safety hazards and heavy polluters due to neglect, but are often unnoticed.
Personal encounters with law enforcement
In the early years of driving I was no model citizen, losing my licence on one occasion for speeding. Over the years I learnt an understanding for acceptable road usage as many drivers do. Between 2013 and 2015, I have had five defect notices handed to me and deservingly so, as I did not meet roadworthy criteria. What I hope to initiate in conversation, is the consistency of officer treatment towards motoring citizens. I understand the notion of accountability and applaud jurisdictions where officers record video & audio of their encounters. Knowing your rights as a citizen of Victoria, based on my research, there are no National or State Legislations which specify that you cannot record video in the public domain – which encapsulates citizens and authority figures alike, so long as you’re not being a nuisance or have malicious intent. The mere act of visually recording a conversation with an officer of the law should bear no ill intent – if it is for the purpose of holding record of a conversation between an authoritative figure and a citizen. It is not a threat to the officer to be identifiable if they are upholding their duty as a public servant. The technological tools that are available today have the potential to protect both Police and citizens that are mistreated.
Over the years I grew a love for Japanese vehicles & motorsports and in 2013, decided to purchase my first import vehicle. I own a Mitsubishi and have had both great and not so great encounters with law enforcement. My first defect notice in 2013 was a major defect as opposed to a minor – which ensures that a roadworthy certificate is required to allow the vehicle to be driven on Victorian roads again, otherwise the vehicle becomes unregistered after a period of time. A major EPA notice requiring the vehicle to meet emission standards was also issued. Again, I was handed these notices deservingly so. The debatable item on the notice was for the shade of the factory window tint. The Highway Patrol Officer pulled me over as I was driving over the speed limit (0-10km/h). He was immediately on the offence, irritatingly asking me for the reason for each modification that he could identify. I refrained from saying that some were for performance as it opened the lines for potential abuse of power and scrutiny. I’m quite a patient individual and responded with respect and calmness. How I wish that I had recorded our encounter! Perhaps disclosing that I had performance modifications may have lessened the severity of my disciplinary consequences.
I also enjoy taking my daily driven car to the circuit, where I can safely push it to the limit. It is a great educational avenue and enjoyable at the same time. Not all have the luxury of having a trailer and tow car to enjoy driving a modified vehicle at the circuit. It is this very dilemma which often prevents people trying to do the right thing and racing in an environment where driver error can be accommodated. Circuit racing teaches you how to be perceptive and control your vehicle under various road conditions and speeds, both on the track as well as on public roads. Automotive enthusiasts are also more aware of the road environment, for example actively avoiding potholes which may damage wheels and tyres. By being aware of road conditions you have more advantage as a driver in terms of danger avoidance.
I have encountered gracious Highway Patrol officers on the way back from circuit racing days, delighted that I used the race track as an outlet and not public roads. Police have the power to pardon and give warnings, so I invite you to treat officers with the same respect that you wish to receive – there is a lot of weight in its simplicity. Some officers have been quite receptive to my candid honesty in regards to my automotive endeavours while others have not. I also invite governing bodies to take a moment to hear the plight of the automotive enthusiast wishing to express their individuality through an extension of their personality in the form of a vehicle.
I can admit that my earlier years on the roads fitted the definition of a hoon, however as I grew older, I adopted a more mature approach to my driving conduct on our roads. This is where early driver education and instilling firm societal values is important at a young age. In addition, a revised regime to accommodate for modern modifications and parts, which have the potential to provide enthusiasts with an element of less restriction would be splendid.
Australian automotive initiatives & their psychology
Group membership creates a social identity and on a larger scale, influences car enthusiast communities. In my eyes, there is simply greater cohesion in smaller groups with like-minded people utilising their creativity. These like-minded individuals whether they like it or not, are seen as leaders and have the capacity to instil driver etiquette and set an example for other enthusiasts & motorists alike. It is a perceivable notion that motor enthusiasts wish to show their individuality, and granted, some push the boundaries. Cars, just like any other form of craft, allows for expression and in my personal automotive goals – the unison of man and machine through the journey of vehicle control practices, a balance of form and function, surrounding myself with like-minded comrades, and being aware that it is the very nature of our chosen craft that mechanical issues can occur.
I wish to introduce to you a few Australian initiatives which have helped guide me through my darkest hours. These groups may not realise how special they are to the automotive community, and perhaps one day – to the greater community.
This Melbourne based non-profit group of friends organise track days, community barbecues, and car wash meets in their spare time. An EXE track day is epitome of grass roots racing and at the core are an absolute joy to take part in. Their collective minds have paved the way for a gaining of traction within the Victorian Time Attack landscape over the past decade. They are largely responsible for welcoming newcomers to the sport and setting an example of driver etiquette. To highlight their altruistic endeavours, a subset of what they have achieved is organising an affordable race series which is inviting to those wishing to improve their driving skills on a budget. Secondly they recently banded together to encourage the community to fund the health care costs, of an apt driver, who was involved in an unfortunate motorsport accident. These incidents can happen especially when pushing your vehicle to its limits. Great precautionary procedures and safety measures ensure that if these incidents occur that driver wellbeing is maximised. This is why there is a need for more accessible motorsport facilities to keep budding drivers in the safest environment possible when mechanical or driver error can occur. The initiative was heartwarming to say the least as it showed me how compassionate the automotive community can be to lend a helping hand.
Cars For Hope
I present to you a second altruistic endeavour, this one based in Sydney. “Cars For Hope is a non-profit movement of passionate automotive enthusiasts who are dedicated to driving hope towards those suffering from depression, anxiety, self-injury and raising awareness of the issues surrounding mental illness to the Australian public”. It is a radical initiative in breaking the social stigma associated with mental health issues. Through the love of cars as a medium of communal connection, the organisation strives in “educating the community about the importance of mental health and; reinforcing the importance of and providing a means of seeking professional help for those who may be suffering from mental illness”.
Being a large scale car meet, 100mm is a culmination of cars, food and music, an automotive gathering like no other. 100mm have also drawn the presence of interstate enthusiasts which demonstrates the power of car appreciation on a national level. It takes a lot of dedication and planning to execute an event of this magnitude, which encompasses a welcoming environment in well known Melbourne landmarks and backdrops. Here you can see future budding enthusiasts, being inspired by different interpretations of car presentation. Their third event last year managed to raise $10,000 for The Royal Children’s Hospital. Given the trying weather conditions it was apparent that rain, hail, or shine that automotive enthusiasts and their friends & families will be drawn to good food, music, and cars.
With Japanese origins, the name translates to comrade, colleague, compatriot or friend. This is what defines this group of track day addicts as they are in essence, a bunch of mates who come from different backgrounds yet share the same passion of Time Attack racing. Their cars are presented with a balance of the visual form with equal emphasis on the vehicle’s functionality based on their application. Each member have their own careers and goals in life, yet are drawn together through camaraderie and having a common goal of achieving their personal best time in attempts to navigate the one perfect lap.
In conclusion, I urge for empathy and harmony. We’re all on the same team. I appeal for enthusiasts to drive the public roads without drawing the public scrutiny imposed from the lens of the mass media labelling. I plea for a diversion in government spending to improve the access of driver training programs and motorsport facilities. May I suggest an Engineer Certified Modification System to operate in conjunction with the VASS (Vehicle Assessment Signatory Scheme) Approval Certificate? It would be great to see Victoria follow suit with Queensland’s Mod Plates initiative, supporting “Government approved engineering inspections for all automotive modifications”. Social media is a powerful tool, lets attempt to change public perception on what it is to be an automotive enthusiast. You make your change in the world by inspiring those around you, and it’s people like this officer who inspire change:
Thanks to Mark Trueno for the recording. Word to South Australia.
Disclaimer: I have no vested interest or direct affiliation with the mentioned groups, no malice, political agenda, or monetary gain involved. This is simply a personal opinion piece with the hopes of invoking conversation and to put into words what many of those who I surround myself with have felt.