ACA Car Accident

‘More will die’: Calls to confront drug driving surge

Story by A Current Affair Staff:

A surge in drug drivers on our roads is prompting calls for a complete overhaul of the system, as grieving parents speak out.

Young mum Rhiannon McMahon was just 24 when her life was snatched away in a drug driving incident in 2012.

She was the passenger in a car driven by Jason Coomber, who was high drugs, including ice, when he crashed into a tree in Arthurs Creek, just north of Melbourne.

“It’s horrible because I’m living this life every day,” Rhiannon’s mother Leanne told A Current Affair.

“And doesn’t matter how long it goes, how many years, we still suffer.

“A huge part of you dies with them.” Coomber had only just got his licence back a month before the fatal crash, on the condition he stick to a zero alcohol limit.

Following Rhiannon’s death he was charged with culpable driving, which carries a maximum jail term of 20 years.

But prosecutors agreed to downgrade the charge to dangerous driving if Coomber pleaded guilty.

He was sentenced to two years and six months in jail, with a minimum of 15 months.

“I could barely walk out of court – I could barely walk out and I just could not believe that’s all he got,” Leanne said.

Rhiannon’s daughter Alyssa was only two when her mother died, and is being raised by Leanne, whom Alyssa calls “mum”.

“I struggled with that, very much so,” Leanne said.

“I would argue with her when she was little because she’d called me mummy. (I’d say) ‘I’m nan, mummy’s in heaven’, and the psychologist told me it’s okay – she’s calling (me) mum because I am now the mum figure in her life.”

Gold Coast teenager Preston Potter is another who’s been hurt by drug driving.

The 17-year-old spent two weeks in intensive care and another three months in hospital after a drug driver mowed him down while he was crossing the road.

“I ended up getting hit and he stopped for 10 seconds a the light and he poked his head out the window and screamed out something,” Preston said.

Shona, his mum, said the family was told to “expect the worst”.

Dad Gavin said his heart “left his body” when he was told.

“And then I had to explain it to my wife, what had happened,” he said.

“And having to do that is probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.” Despite running a red light after leaving his young victim for dead, driver Robert Summerville received a one-month driving ban and was fined $500.

Victorian Shadow Minister for Crime Prevention and former police officer Brad Battin said the worst job on the force had been knocking on somebody’s door to tell them they’d lost a loved one in a car accident.

“And more and more are because of drug driving,” he said.

He said the system isn’t working.

“What you do need to do is have in place a position where people under the influence on the road at least at bare minimum treated the same as a drink driver, and what we’re seeing at the moment is huge discrepancies between drink drivers and drug drivers,” he said.

In the past decade, there has been a startling surge in drug driving numbers.

Victoria has endured a 491 per cent jump, NSW a 246 per cent rise, while numbers in the ACT have spiked 1131 per cent. It’s 915 per cent in Queensland, where police say one in three motorists are now testing positive to an illegal substance.

And numbers have also risen in Western Australia (117 per cent), the Northern Territory (218 per cent), South Australia (165 per cent) and Tasmania (76 per cent).

“If we don’t do something now, it’s only going to get worse,” Leanne said.

“More people are going to lose lives.”