Authorities should consider banning lane changes in road tunnels built in future following a horrific Burnley Tunnel crash that killed three people in 2007, a coroner said today.
Coroner Judge Jennifer Coate said the deaths of the three men had "not only left three families bereft of their loved ones, but left a fear in the minds of many using the Burnley Tunnel as to its safety".
Judge Coate said the crash had been caused by an egregious breach of the traffic laws by truck driver David Lawrence Kalwig.
Kalwig, who was driving a 1986 Louisville prime mover towing a refrigerated trailer at the time of the accident, was jailed in September 2009 for five years over his ‘‘foolhardy and extremely dangerous" driving which led to the three deaths.
When sentencing Kalwig, Justice Mark Weinberg said he had had a clear view and ample warning of another truck, which slowed in front of him in the left lane.
But Kalwig, of Hoppers Crossing, had failed to pay proper attention and swerved at the last minute into the centre lane, setting off a series of collisions that led to the men’s deaths.
Champion cyclist Damian McDonald, 34, plumber Darren Sporn, 37, and courier Geoff Kennard, 51, were killed in the 10-car pile-up. Their cars were crushed and engulfed by fire in the March 23, 2007, crash.
The coroner said Judge Weinberg found that none of the three men who died in the crashes when driving in separate cars were in any way to blame for what happened.
"This collision caused a major fire within the Burnley Tunnel, causing 300 people to be evacuated," Judge Coate said.
"In the wake of this terrible and frightening tragedy, the tunnel was closed to the city of Melbourne for three days.
"The impact of the dramatic loss of three lives in this way and the magnitude of this event on the psyche of the state cannot be underestimated."
The coroner noted that Judge Weinberg found Kalwig's driving had caused the crash, and that the design and operation of the Burnley Tunnel had not contributed to the three deaths.
Judge Coate made 14 recommendations, including that
♦ VicRoads request Austroads, the national road organisation, to reconsider its position on banning lane changing in all future road tunnels to minimise the possibility of collisions as a result of lane changing
♦ VicRoads ensure all future road tunnel designs include an emergency lay-by for stranded vehicles in the tunnel
♦ VicRoads conduct regular public safe driving campaigns including the importance of keeping a safe distance in tunnels.
Kalwig was acquitted of culpable driving causing death but found guilty on three counts of the lesser charge of dangerous driving causing death.
The jury was not told, however, that Kalwig’s mobile phone was answered seconds before the tunnel crash.
That evidence was ruled inadmissable because the clock used for Telstra’s phone records was not set at exactly the same time as the clock used for CityLink’s camera footage.
Kalwig had claimed to police that his pen knife accidentally turned on the phone.
More than 100 other drivers ahead of Kalwig, a truck driver of 17 years, had safely manoeuvred around a truck with a tyre blow-out that had blocked the left lane.
Kalwig was ordered to serve a minimum of two years and nine months’ jail before being eligible for parole.
The maximum penalty for dangerous driving causing death was five years’ jail at the time of the crash, but has since been increased to 10 years’ jail.
Kalwig had driven into the tunnel at 9.54am where a truck had stopped in the left lane with a blown tyre.
Two double-B semi trailers, 23 trucks and 83 cars had managed to safely pass the stationary truck but Kalwig, travelling between 65km/h and 68km/h, swerved from the left lane into the middle lane to avoid a slowing truck in front of him.
The coroner said there had been talk in 2007 of banning lane changes in the Burnley Tunnel after the crash but a review found such a move would result in ‘‘a net loss of safety over the network’’ because of the way the tunnel was designed.
Drivers could become confused because of the number of exits and entries before and after the tunnel.
Safety experts believed banning lane changing in Melbourne’s Burnley and Domain tunnels could cause more accidents, more risk of serious injury and potentially more deaths so the Bracks government decided to restrict lane changing but not ban it.