Jo-Anne Fuller (right) was a giving member for her community.
Jo-Anne Fuller (right) was a giving member for her community. Alistair Brightman

Calls for tougher driving penalties after woman's death

A CORONER examining the death of a Maryborough woman has called for tougher careless driving penalties.

Jo-Anne Fuller was killed in a crash on Sunday, March 6 last year on the Maryborough-Hervey Bay Rd while returning home from playing in a charity bowls game with her sister-in-law.

Coroner David O'Connell urged the State Government to increase penalties for careless driving that results in death after handing down findings relating to a traffic crash that claimed the life of the 53-year-old woman.

Jacob Tobias McFarlane, 20, was fined $1000 and was suspended from driving for four months after he pleaded guilty in Hervey Bay Magistrates Court to driving without due care and attention and driving with a license that had been suspended by SPER.

Mr O'Connell said a review of Mr McFarlane activities that weekend indicated that he had travelled to Brisbane on the Saturday afternoon after work and socialised, including visiting nightclubs and a casino.

He had his last alcoholic drink about 2am before going to sleep about 4am at a backpacker hotel.

Mr McFarlane then woke up about 10am, then had something to eat and slept for another 10 to 20 minutes.

In the lead up to the crash, Mr McFarlane said he was feeling a little bit tired, but he did not pull over.

"It is evident to me that he started his journey from Brisbane already tired," Mr O'Connell said in his findings.

Mr O'Connell said there was also the additional issue of why Mr McFarlane had been driving at all with a SPER suspended license.

He said letters to Mr McFarlane's home made it clear his licence was suspended and there was also a phone call where Mr McFarlane had contacted SPER.

"I find it is not credible that Mr McFarlane could realistically believe that he could validly drive at the time the incident occurred," Mr O'Connell said.

"I envisage that Ms Fuller's next of kin must harbour thoughts that the accident would never have occurred if Mr McFarlane had abided by the law and not driven on that day."

Mr O'Connell said on the evidence it was clear that Mr McFarlane had a micro-sleep at the wheel and his car drifted over the centreline at a slight bend in the road.

He reflected on the recommendations he had handed down after the death of Audrey Dow, who died in similar circumstances in McKay.

Mr O'Connell handed down his findings in March, 2015.

Last month the State Government announced its plans to increase penalties for careless driving that resulted in serious injury or death after a campaign by a Bundaberg family who lost siblings Sarah and Daniel Walker after a crash at Tiaro earlier this year.

Ashley Clark

Donald George Gayler pleaded guilty to driving without due care and attention.

He was fined $3000 and his license was disqualified for four months.

While Mr O'Connell acknowledged that the State Government was considering tougher penalties, he noted that the government had declined a separate mid-range offence, usually called reckless driving.

He said he appreciated the government's position was to reject any change in the law, but he said it would have been "very applicable" to the facts of Ms Fuller's death as Ms McFarlane admitted driving while tired.

Mr O'Connell said that two and a half years after his findings were handed down in the case of Ms Dow, there was clearly an issue of inaction that needed to be addressed.

"I consider only one month is necessary to turn the announced changes into law," he said.

"The issue of a new reckless driving offence I recommend also be addressed with the new offence included in the Criminal Code as this will permit its use as an alternate charge in appropriate cases.

In addition, Mr O'Connell recommended that there be a specific circumstance of aggravation for driving without due care and attention where the offending driver causes grievous bodily harm or death and a further circumstance of aggravation if the offending driver was unlicensed, suspended or disqualified from driving.

He also recommended a mid-range driving offence of reckless driving be referred to the Attorney General between the existing charges of dangerous driving and driving without due care and attention.

That would include a circumstance of aggravation for those who cause death or bodily harm, or who were driving while unlicensed or while their licence was suspended or disqualified.

Mr O'Connell said the Queensland Police Service supported appropriate penalties, with evidence that fatigue was a factor in 15 to 30% of all road crashes.

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