Record Of Investigation Into Death (Without Inquest)

Coroners Act 1995
Coroners Rules 2006
Rule 11

I, Rod Chandler, Coroner, having investigated the death of

A young male


Find That:-

The deceased died in December 2008 on the Channel Highway at Margate.

The deceased was aged 18 years. He was unmarried and a student at the time of his death.

I find that the deceased died from multiple blunt traumatic injuries sustained in a motor vehicle crash.

Circumstances Surrounding the Death:

In December 2008 the deceased was driving his Nissan sedan north on the Channel Highway at Margate. He had three passengers in the vehicle. They were en route to Launceston. The deceased was a relatively inexperienced driver having obtained his provisional licence just one month previously.

Concurrently, a white Volvo waste management truck was being driven in a generally southerly direction on the same road driving to the Margate Tip.

As the Nissan was approaching an open left hand curve it suddenly crossed to the opposite side of the roadway and into the path of the Volvo truck. The driver of the Volvo truck braked heavily and attempted to swerve but was unable to avoid a collision with the Nissan. It was forced backward, rotated and then came to rest in the northbound lane, facing northbound traffic. Meantime the Volvo truck collided with the Armco railing adjacent to the southbound lane before travelling a short distance and then stopping.

The deceased died at the crash scene. A subsequent post-mortem examination determined the cause of death to be multiple blunt traumatic injuries sustained in the crash. Toxicology testing established that no alcohol or drugs were in the deceased’s body at the time of the crash.

The driver of the Volvo was uninjured. He underwent blood testing pursuant to the Road Safety (Alcohol & Drugs) Act 1970 which established that he did not have any alcohol in his body at the time of the crash. However, the presence of cannabis was detected. The driver admitted to investigators that he had used cannabis, but not since the Saturday preceding the collision.

An investigation of the scene and vehicles involved was conducted by police accident investigators and transport inspectors respectively. I am satisfied as a result of these investigations that both vehicles were in a roadworthy condition at the time of the crash, and that neither the road nor weather conditions were contributory factors. Additionally, tests were conducted to determine the speeds of the vehicles involved at the time of the collision. The results of these tests suggest that neither vehicle was travelling in excess of the posted speed limit of 80km/h.

I note that it is the opinion of police investigators that the driver of the Volvo had insufficient perception and reaction time to avoid the deceased’s vehicle once it had veered into his path. It is also their opinion that the presence of cannabis in the truck driver’s blood was not a factor which contributed to the crash. I accept these opinions. It is noted nevertheless that the driver of the Volvo has been charged with the offence of driving a motor vehicle with an illicit drug present in his blood, contrary to section 6A(1) of the Road Safety (Alcohol & Drugs) Act 1970.

A passenger seated in the Nissan’s front passenger seat describes events immediately before the crash in these terms:

"I remember driving around a corner. I think we were travelling about the speed limit. I remember the deceased did accelerate at one point. He may have accelerated to 95kmh. He didn’t change gears. I then remembered becoming aware the deceased had pulled the keys out of the ignition. I saw them in his right hand. I heard the car engine had died.. I think he tried to brake but the brakes wouldn’t have worked. ……..I felt the acceleration and when the engine died I looked up. That’s when he said something about the steering being locked. He sounded panicky. I remember trying to steer the wheel but it wouldn’t move. It was then that I became aware we were driving straight towards a truck travelling towards us."

Mr Paul Rice is a long experienced motor mechanic with a specialised knowledge of Datsun and Nissan vehicles. He examined the ignition key to the deceased’s car and found it to be in good condition without obvious wear marks. In his view the key could not have accidentally fallen from the ignition barrel. He explained that to remove the key to the deceased’s Nissan required it to be turned through ‘three notches’ before pressing a black release button. At this point the steering will lock.

One of the passengers states that he had previously been aware of the deceased engaging in the practice of removing the ignition key while his car was in motion. He says that the deceased referred to the practice as ‘coasting or something similar’. The deceased’s mother also comments that her son was frequently ‘worried about petrol’, and that it would be unsurprising to her if he had removed the key from the ignition in an effort to conserve fuel.  

Comments & Recommendations:-

I am satisfied that a thorough and detailed investigation has occurred into the deceased’s death and that there are no suspicious circumstances.

I find that the deceased died from multiple blunt traumatic injuries sustained in a motor vehicle crash.

I find that this crash occurred as a consequence of the deceased deliberately removing the key from the ignition while his car was still in motion. As a consequence, the engine disengaged and the steering wheel locked as soon as an attempt was made to steer the vehicle. In the result it was unable to be diverted from its set course so that it moved from its northbound lane into the opposite lane and into the direct path of the Volvo truck. The crash then occurred.

In my opinion the removal of the key from the Nissan’s ignition was the principal factor causative of this crash because it disengaged the engine thereby effectively disabling the vehicle and preventing the driver from steering it on a safe course. Quite clearly it is an extremely dangerous act to remove a key from a vehicle’s ignition whilst it is still in motion. I am satisfied that it occurred in this instance not because the deceased was being foolhardy or irresponsible but rather because of his ignorance of its effect upon his capacity to manage the vehicle. His tragic death should serve as a reminder to all parents, driving instructors and others involved in driver training of the need to incorporate in learner driver education advice upon fundamental motor vehicle mechanics including direction upon the danger of driving when a vehicle’s engine has been disengaged.

I am satisfied upon the evidence that the driving of the Volvo was at all times appropriate and that it did not in any way contribute to this crash.

I end by conveying my sincere condolences to the deceased’s family.

DATED : Tuesday, 21 July 2009 at Hobart in the State of Tasmania.