31 Years to Fulfil a Promise

Featured Video Play Icon

It has taken 31 years to fulfil a promise made after the inquest into the Grafton Truck and Bus Crash, as is pointed out by this video made in 2019. The inquest into the deadly crash was presided over by Magistrate Kevin Waller and began on January 29, 1990. Police evidence, given by Senior Constable Bob Sawyer, put the blame for the crash squarely on the shoulders of the truck driver, David Hutchins, who had driven about 3600 km in the three days before the crash, well over the legally allowed driving hours.

In the early hours of the morning October 21 1989 a Sunliner coach was heading north on the Pacific Highway at Cowper, a few kilometres north of Grafton in NSW’s Northern Rivers. As it came around a slight right-hand curve the driver saw a semitrailer heading straight for him on his side of the road. The coach driver took evasive action but could not get the coach out of the way in time. The truck hit the right hand side of the bus causing death and mayhem as it tore through the coach’s interior.

The public’s perception of the trucking industry deteriorated further a matter of weeks later when an even more disastrous crash occurred, this time between two buses at Clybucca, about 200km south of the site of the Grafton crash. On Friday 22 December, two tourist coaches collided head-on at 100kph killing 35 people and injuring a further 41. The disaster further inflamed public demands for something to be done.

At the end of the hearings about both crashes, Waller called for a reduction of the truck speed limit to 90 km/h and for a two cents per litre levy to pay for making the Pacific Highway into a four lane highway from Sydney to Brisbane.

The promise was made to improve the safety outcomes on the Pacific Highway by making a four lane divided highway all of the way from Hexham, just next to Newcastle on the Central Coast to Tweed Heads, where the road crosses the border into Queensland.

Now, 31 years later that promise has, finally, become a reality with a four lane divided road all of the way, completed as the last sections of the road around Grafton were finally opened. Ironically, this section of the Highway  bypasses, by some distance the location of the incident which instigated the series of events leading to the promise of a safer highway.

Here is a fly through of the last section, from Woolgoolga to Ballina from April last year, before this final piece in the jigsaw was completed:

Read more about the history of the Pacific Highway and a review of how it is performing today in the next issue of PowerTorque. 

31 years to fulfil a promise