Police have slammed as "reckless" a magazine stunt that commissioned a foreign journalist to drive from Melbourne to Sydney above the speed limit at 130km/h — slashing more than an hour off the journey and completing it in less than six-and-a-half hours.
In a campaign to increase the limit between the two capital cities, the latest issue of Wheels magazine boasts "we drove from Melbourne to Sydney at 130km/h, didn't die and didn't get booked".
Defending the stunt, Wheels editor Stephen Corby said: "We've been told for years drowsy drivers die, but increasing the speed limit would reduce fatigue. You're less likely to have a microsleep, less likely to wander off the road. We see it as a positive for road safety."
The magazine was prepared to pay for three speeding tickets before calling off the attempt, done on a Saturday, but was amazed to find it didn't once get stopped by police in Victoria or NSW.
Travelling 20km/h above the posted limit cut more than 70 minutes from the 800km journey between the northern outskirts of Melbourne and the south-western outskirts of Sydney on the Hume Highway, to just six hours and 23 minutes.
The British journalist behind the wheel, Ben Oliver, slowed for more than a dozen speed cameras and stuck to the limit in all other speed zones except 110km/h sections.
"I've never arrived in a city with the sole intention of breaking the law before, but any sense of roguish glamour soon fades as I head out of Melbourne on the Hume Highway, flagrantly breaching Australian law by doing something that is considered perfectly safe and legal in other countries," wrote Oliver, even though he later admitted "I wouldn't advocate making the Hume 130km/h all the way".
Aside from speed-unlimited sections of German autobahn, most European countries have maximum speed limits of between 130km/h and 150km/h. But Australian police are not impressed. "This stunt has potentially endangered other people's lives. Speed is still one of the biggest killers on our roads," said NSW Police Assistant Commissioner, Commander of Traffic and Highway Patrol, John Hartley. "It's a deliberately reckless action. We take a dim view of what is clearly a stunt. It sends a bad message to other drivers and could have had tragic consequences."
Victoria Police Superintendent of road policing, Neville Taylor, said: "This has been a ridiculous high-risk stunt and is most certainly not an appropriate method of doing research into road safety initiatives. Speed is a significant contributor to one in three road traumas." Despite the article amounting to a confession, police said they would not attempt to prosecute the foreign journalist — who has since returned to Britain — but did issue a warning to other overseas licence holders who flout the law.
"If the (foreign) driver had continued with that behaviour and been caught multiple times it would have come up on our police computer and he would have been placed under arrest and put before a court," said Mr Hartley.
Highway patrol officers regularly check the immigration status of foreign licence holders to ensure they are bona fide visitors rather than permanent residents trying to avoid fines, he said.
The lead-footed journalist said Victoria's near-zero tolerance to speeding "causes cars and trucks to bunch together as one overtakes another achingly slowly, terrified of getting pinged".
The author also "marvelled at the staggering wrongheadedness of the constant roadside signs warning drivers of the dangers of fatigue when an unnecessarily low limit forces them to remain behind the wheel for longer".
NSW Roads Minister Duncan Gay gave qualified support to the 130km/h campaign: "I think in certain conditions (130km/h) would be a speed that could be contemplated, but it is not a speed that the community would accept," he said.
Swedish car maker Volvo, the inventor of the three-point seatbelt and a road safety advocate, said it was aware its car was being used for the magazine's 130km/h stunt.
"We knew the nature of the story and we're comfortable with it," said Volvo Australia spokesman Oliver Peagam, who supplied a super-fast turbocharged sedan worth $110,000 for the exercise. "It was more to illustrate the differing views on speed limits."
This reporter is on Twitter: @JoshuaDowling
How fast are you going now?
France — 130km/h
Austria — 130km/h
Bulgaria — 140km/h
Denmark — 130km/h
Italy — 150km/h
The Netherlands — 130km/h
Poland — 140km/h
Germany — Unlimited, on selected roads
Australia — 110km/h (130km/h on some sections of the NT)