Coroner rules that ‘unexplained driver error’ caused fatal crash

Victorian coroner Simon McGregor has released his findings into the circumstances of the crash at the Serviceton border last year that resulted in the tragic death of truckie Steven Lawrie.

Lawrie, 46, died when his Volvo truck crashed into traffic just over two hours after South Australia closed its borders to Victoria following a hotel quarantine outbreak, on February 11, 2021.

In McGregor’s detailed report he states that “the operation and management of the Serviceton border check point was not a causal factor in the collision.”

He added that there was insufficient evidence to support a finding that Lawrie was distracted by mobile phone usage, or that fatigue, including Lawrie falling asleep at the wheel, was a contributory factor.

“There is insufficient evidence to support a finding that Steven suffered a cardiac arrhythmia (or other medical episode),” McGregor added.

He also ruled out the possibility that Lawrie had intentionally taken his own life.

“Whilst a number of deficiencies have been identified, primarily in respect of (i) communication in respect of the hard border closure with both relevant Victorian Government Departments and agencies and the trucking industry; and (ii) management of the Serviceton checkpoint including surge staffing capabilities and management of queuing traffic, I am satisfied that SAPOL’s own internal debrief, review and mitigation process has appropriately addressed all relevant issues and that this remediation will render it much less likely that such a situation would repeat itself,” writes McGregor.

“Further I find that to the relevant standard, none of the shortcomings or deficiencies identified were causative to the fatal collision.

“Assistant Commissioner Patterson submitted in his statement that ‘’as part of policing there is frequently a cause to close sections of road with little or no notice. I am informed that fatalities or serious crashes occur approximately 50 times per year on the Dukes Highway (the SA extension of the Western Highway), often resulting in line-ups of similar lengths if not longer and at times no mitigation measures are able to be put in place. The area where the collision occurred was on a straight section of road and all other vehicles that formed part of the backlog had been able to come safely to a stop, with the lights of the stationary vehicles waiting in the queue serving to warn approaching traffic’.”

The Major Collision Investigation Unit’s Detective Sergeant Robert Hay found Lawrie was driving about 98km/h with no evidence of braking when his Volvo collided into a stationary Kenworth that had joined a 6km line to pass the checkpoint.

Det Sgt Hay found that the crash “should have been avoidable by an alert driver”.

“For an unknown reason the driver does not appear to have reacted to the queue of traffic stopped on the Western Highway.

“I am unable to explain why the driver failed to react to the stopped vehicles.”

A SAPOL spokesperson told Big Rigs that with the conclusion of the Victorian Coroner’s involvement, SAPOL will now finalise the internal Commissioner’s Inquiry into the incident.

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