Family hopes losing Lachlan brings safer rural driving

Stephanie Gardiner |

Lachlan Smith’s family say they’ll never be the same after the teen was killed in a road accident.
Lachlan Smith’s family say they’ll never be the same after the teen was killed in a road accident.

More than a year after teenager Lachlan Smith was killed in a high-speed car crash on a country road, his bereaved family feel like they’re stuck in an awful dream.

“It still feels like he’s gone away on a holiday and one day he’s going to come home, but he just isn’t,” Lachlan’s father Nigel Smith told AAP.

“It’s not only our family, it’s our friends, it’s our son’s friends, who are devastated they’ve lost their best mate.

“And some days they seem very lost.”

Lachlan, 18, was a passenger in a car that crashed in Silverdale, southwest of Sydney, on a Saturday night in February 2022 during what was meant to be a mates’ fishing trip.

The P-plate driver, 17, was later charged with a range of offences including speeding more than 45km/h over the limit.

During Rural Road Safety Month, the Smith family want drivers to know about the risks of road trauma and its endless devastation.

“It’s just that split-second decision where things can go wrong and you kill someone,” Mr Smith said.

“Our lives have been turned upside down – we’ll never be the same again.”

Two-thirds of all road deaths in Australia occur in regional and rural areas, a statistic that has not changed in decades despite advances in vehicle safety and infrastructure.

Australian Road Safety Foundation chief executive Russell White said country roads present greater risks, like high speed limits and varying road quality.

But crashes largely come down to human factors like speeding, fatigue, mobile phone use and possible complacency among locals overconfident on rural roads.

“People take enormous liberties based on the assumption that because nothing bad happened yesterday that nothing bad is going to happen tomorrow,” Mr White said.

The foundation is pushing for driver education to begin in the early school years and continue well after getting a licence, while the Smiths would like to see harsher penalties for reckless driving.

Crash survivor Lisa Peden this week urged country drivers to stay alert after her car was rear-ended, hurtling her small hatchback into oncoming traffic. 

The resident of Ballarat in Victoria is still recovering from serious complex injuries, two years after the accident.

“The road is known to locals to be dangerous and wrecked from flooding, but when you live in the country there’s a real ‘she’ll be right’ attitude to things, and a confidence that can lead to complacency on these back roads,” she said in a statement through Slater and Gordon lawyers.

Ahead of the awareness week, the road safety foundation surveyed 1005 drivers, finding 51 per cent admitted to taking risks on rural roads like speeding and crossing double lines.

Of the 58 per cent who regularly drive in country areas, one quarter said they often experienced fatigue.

Mr White said human behaviour was the most difficult safety factor to address.

“I’m often stunned by the lack of action and the public apathy towards what can happen.

“We want to try and stop people having to go through what Nigel and his family have gone through.”