Record of Investigation into Death
Coroners Act 1995
Coroners Rules 2006
I, Olivia McTaggart, Coroner, having investigated the death of
Kayla Maree MAHER
WITHOUT HOLDING AN INQUEST
(a) Kayla Maree Maher died at about 4.40pm on 30 January 2009 on Highfield Street, Moonah, aged 17 years;
(b) Kayla was born in Hobart on 26 March 1991 and was single at the time of her death; and
(c) Kayla died as a result of blunt trauma of the head sustained in a single motor vehicle crash in which she was a front seat passenger.
Circumstances surrounding the death :
On the morning of 30 January 2009 Kayla and her boyfriend, Alani Moeakiola, aged 19 years, woke at 10 Abby Court, Moonah, after spending the night together. That residence was the home of Kayla’s grandmother. They then spent a short time at a neighbouring home at 9 Abby Court where they both shared a quantity of cannabis with another person present there.
Later in the morning Mr Moeakiola drove Kayla to the Royal Hobart Hospital in his red Commodore sedan, registration number FP-8947, as she was complaining of stomach cramps. They then both returned to 10 Abby Court. Towards late afternoon Kayla and Mr Moeakiola decided that they would spend the upcoming night in a motel rather than stay at Abby Court. They left in the Commodore sedan to find a suitable motel. Mr Moeakiola drove the vehicle and Kayla was in the front passenger seat. Two male friends were seated in the rear of the sedan. They visited three motels before deciding that each was either unsuitable or too expensive. They therefore commenced to travel back towards the Abby Court address.
They travelled along Main Road, New Town and onto Creek Road before turning onto Gerrard Street, Moonah. On reaching Gerrard Street, Kayla and Mr Moeakiola began to argue. Kayla removed her seatbelt and demanded that he stop the vehicle so that she could get out. Mr Moeakiola momentarily slowed the vehicle before accelerating up Gerrard Street and turning right onto Highfield Street. On completing this turn they came up behind a Metro bus that was stopped or slowing at a bus stop, so Mr Moeakiola accelerated quickly around the right-hand side of it to overtake. In overtaking the bus he placed his vehicle on the incorrect side of the road.
He continued to drive on the incorrect side of the road. He then manoeuvred quickly back to the correct side of the road to avoid an approaching vehicle. The excessive speed of the vehicle negotiating the speed hump and the sudden changes of direction to avoid the oncoming car contributed to Mr Moeakiola losing control of his vehicle. The rear of the vehicle started to slide as it entered a left hand sweeping curve before crossing the left side footpath and striking a stone retaining wall near 38 Highfield Street. The vehicle then bounced off and overturned more than once before coming to a standstill in the driveway of 36 Highfield Street. The impact of the vehicle on the retaining wall and its resultant overturning caused Kayla to be thrown around inside the vehicle and suffer severe head trauma. An ambulance attended the scene. However upon arriving at the Royal Hobart Hospital Kayla was pronounced deceased.
A post-mortem examination was conducted by forensic pathologist, Dr Donald Ritchey. I accept his opinion that blunt trauma of the head sustained in the crash caused Kayla’s death.
Mr Moeakiola appeared before Justice Evans on 9 November 2009 and was sentenced to two years imprisonment upon pleading guilty to one charge of causing death by dangerous driving.
In his comments on passing sentence Justice Evans stated:
"The defendant did not at the time of the crash, and never has, held a driver's licence. He has never had any formal driving instruction and the only informal instruction he has is one lesson from a brother. The Court has been provided with a copy of a psychologist's report on the defendant dated 13 August 2009. The defendant left that psychologist with the impression that he was not aware of the need to moderate speed for conditions or observe signage as to speed limits, although he had been told by a family member never to go above the speed 100. He had had the vehicle he was driving for about two weeks. It was uninsured and two of its tyres were non-compliant due to insufficient tread. As the road was dry the condition of those tyres is unlikely to have been a cause of the crash."
Justice Evans also noted that Mr Moeakiola suffered a "mild to moderate’ intellectual disability that meant he was unlikely to have perceived the risk of his driving to the same extent as a more intellectually capable driver. He also commented that his recent consumption of cannabis would have impaired his driving ability.
His Honour further stated:
"Once again, the court is confronted with a relatively young male inexperienced driver who has caused the death of another by dangerous driving. The court's sentencing database demonstrates that these characteristics are almost invariably present when this crime is committed and moreover, that the victim is usually a friend of the perpetrator. The very real danger that young male drivers pose to others, in particular their friends, cannot be overstated."
Comments and Recommendations :
Whilst the dangerous driving by Mr Moeakiola caused Kayla’s death, it is unfortunate that she had unclipped her seatbelt before the crash. If her seatbelt had remained fastened her chances of survival would have increased. This is supported by the fact of the survival of all other occupants of the vehicle who were wearing their seat belts.
It is widely recognised that young male drivers are over-represented in serious crashes. This fact led Coroner Glenn Hay in 2008 to make recommendations with a view to reducing the likelihood of death of youthful citizens. Those recommendations were:
limiting the power-to-weight ratio of vehicles permitted to be driven by young or inexperienced drivers;
governing the maximum speed of vehicles permitted to be owned or driven by young or inexperienced drivers;
limiting the number of peer passengers in vehicles being driven by young or inexperienced drivers;
applying a restriction on the hours when a young or inexperienced driver can drive a vehicle at all and/or drive with any passengers in the vehicle, especially late night restrictions;
encouraging parental involvement/supervision of young or inexperienced drivers;
encouraging or requiring offender drivers to be involved in the education of young prospective drivers.
consideration of the insertion into the motor vehicles driven by young or inexperienced drivers of In-Vehicle Intelligent Transport Systems (such as speed limiters; over-speed warning devices; alcohol interlocks and alcohol ‘sniffers’ coupled to engine immobilisers).
Mr Craig Hoey, Acting General Manager for Land Transport Safety, with the Department of Infrastructure, Energy & Resources (DIER), has provided helpful information for this finding.
Mr Hoey states that the issue of young driver safety is of the "utmost importance to the Tasmanian Government and as such increased Safety for Young Road Users has been identified as one of four key strategic directions in the Tasmanian Road Safety Strategy 2007-2016".
Mr Hoey states that in 2008 and 2009 a number of reforms to the Novice Licensing system were made including increased supervision, education and assessment; and more severe penalties for offences. Mr Hoey further states:
"The issue of young driver safety will continue to be a focus of the Tasmanian Road Safety Strategy’s second action plan, Road Safety Action Plan (2011-2013). The second action plan contains a number of initiatives to improve young driver safety, including investigating further changes to Tasmania’s Graduated Licensing System (GLS).
This will include an investigation of introducing novice driver restrictions currently applied in other jurisdictions. Restrictions and measures to be reviewed include:
greater mandatory learning hours; and
banning mobile phone usage.
This aligns with the new National Road Safety Strategy 2011-2020 (http://www.atcouncil.gov.au/documents/atcnrss.aspx) which includes an initiative to develop an evidence-based GLS for car drivers in Australia. They key elements that will be considered as part of this process include:
minimum supervised driving hours;
minimum provisional licence age;
night driving restrictions;
mobile phone bans;
vehicle power restrictions;
speed and alcohol restrictions; and
more effective sanctions for speed and alcohol offences.
A number of the issues addressed in Coroner Hay’s recommendations will be considered as part of these reviews by GLSs".
Mr Hoey also provided details of the consideration specifically given to Coroner Hay’s recommendations to-date. In particular I note that DIER is also developing a media campaign specifically targeting the parents of provisional drivers to encourage their continual involvement in their children’s driving careers.
I also note that DIER is presently in the process of developing an alcohol interlock program. The program will be a preventative and practical intervention to problem drink-drivers with a focus on persistent repeat offenders (2 or more drink driving convictions) and offenders with a high Blood Alcohol Content (0.15 or higher).
I accept that significant reform in this area has already taken place and it remains a high priority for the Tasmanian Government.
I urge young drivers to drive with the utmost caution and in obedience to the road laws. In the context of this tragic case, it should also be emphasised that cannabis use before driving can impair co-ordination and impact adversely on reaction times and judgment. Of course, many younger drivers are responsible road users. However, it cannot be emphasised strongly enough that over-confident and risk-taking driving behaviour can result in tragic and unnecessary loss of life.
I conclude by conveying my sincere condolences to Kayla’s family.
DATED : Tuesday 5 July 2011 at Hobart in Tasmania.