Call for crackdown on 'tag-along' tours
A MOOLOOLABA-based tour operator is calling for greater regulation of "tag-along" four-wheel-drive tours on Fraser Island.
Fraser Island Adventure Tours owner Mark Luscombe yesterday wrote to the State Attorney-General calling for a review of safety regulations for 4WD operators to ensure only experienced drivers could drive the vehicles.
His actions follow the death of 22-year-old British backpacker Jade Fox after a Fraser Island four-wheel-drive accident on Friday.
The LandCruiser Ms Fox had been travelling in was part of a tag-along tour, a type recommended for tourists after a series of rollovers sparked an overhaul of the industry in 2009.
Five other passengers were injured in the crash on Friday afternoon.
Currently, an experienced operator is required to lead the group but less experienced drivers can follow in convoy. Mr Luscombe believes this is irresponsible.
"We don't believe the driving experience of the guide in the lead vehicle can be transferred into the heads, hands and right feet of all the other drivers in the other 4WDs," he said.
He said he was saddened by the news of the accident, but that a serious 4WD incident was inevitable because of inexperienced operators.
"You don't go inexperienced like that into off-road conditions," he said.
"If you've never been driving on ice before, you can't just jump in a car and do it."
He says tourists visiting Fraser Island need to understand it's a beautiful but tough environment and driving safely on the island takes skill.
"Conditions of the road they came unstuck on were atrocious - the worst we have seen in 26 years. It's corrugated, sandy, it's got run-off into the water table. Only experienced drivers should be driving that road."
An experienced operator of 4WD vehicles himself, Mr Luscombe said he learned by practice.
He said the short video presentation and briefing given to tag-along tour customers was not adequate.
"If they do a desperate turn to the right or something like that, or jam on the brakes ... you only get (to avoid) that through experience," he said.
Fraser Island is on the bucket list of many visitors to Queensland, and four-wheel driving is a big part of the attraction for some.
"It's a bit of adventure for young people," Mr Luscombe said.
"Fraser is totally unique - you've got lakes, rainforests, beaches."
He said part of the attraction was the rough-living experience offered.
"It's a real knock-about camping time, and the backpackers like that. They can have a good time. That's why the tag-alongs are popular: they play pretty hard."
Maroochydore-based 4WD enthusiast Rodney Midolo said lack of experience did not necessarily lead to dangerous driving.
"It all came pretty natural to me. I reckon it would be possible (to learn in) half an hour. You've just got to know your own limits," he said.
"A lot of people would be turned away from the sport if there were more restrictions."
Rainbow Beach Adventure Company organised Ms Fox's tour of the island.
The tour operator was contacted but did not provide a response before deadline.