Road blocks fall as limits change

Cally Dupe, Josh Zimmerman and Caitlyn RintoulCountryman
Australian Defence Force reservist lance bombardier Oliver Perey, Traffic Force traffic controller Javier Mellado, and State Traffic senior constable Alex Mears.
Camera IconAustralian Defence Force reservist lance bombardier Oliver Perey, Traffic Force traffic controller Javier Mellado, and State Traffic senior constable Alex Mears. Credit: Cally Dupe/Countryman

After a nearly seven-week COVID-19 enforced separation, WA’s regional borders have been relaxed — allowing travel between some of the regions.

Thirteen travel zones became four at midnight on Sunday night as most of the regional road blocks were removed.

Travel is now permitted between Perth, Peel, the Wheatbelt, South West and Great Southern regions, and West Australians are now permitted to travel for non-essential reasons such as visiting family and friends.

The Goldfields and Esperance regions have also been combined, as have the Mid West, Gascoyne and Pilbara — which remain cut off from Perth and the south of the State.

While travel into and out of the Kimberley remains forbidden, the four local government areas are no longer being treated as separate zones. Nearly 14,000 vehicles have been turned around at regional border checkpoints since the McGowan Government’s travel bans were introduced on April 1.

In all, 806,005 cars have been stopped, with 792,074 found to have valid exemptions.

State Traffic senior constable Alex Mears.
Camera IconState Traffic senior constable Alex Mears. Credit: Cally Dupe/Countryman

New checkpoints have been set up to protect the redesigned regional borders, and penalties — including fines of up to $50,000 — remain in place for people caught trying to sneak between regions without permission.

A steady stream of cars passed through the checkpoint at Morangup, about 30km south-west of Toodyay, on Sunday — the last day of the restrictions.

When Countryman visited the site on Sunday, there were two police officers, two Australian Defence Force personnel, and two Traffic Force controllers manning the checkpoint on either side of the road.

Those manning the site said they had been impressed with how supportive of the border restrictions residents of country communities had been.

It was a stark contrast to the Sunday prior, when on May 10 police chased an 82-year-old grandfather after he sped through the checkpoint.

Police allege Stephen Hall, 82, sped away from a regional border checkpoint north-east of Perth at Morangup about 3.10pm and led officers on a pursuit for 90 minutes before his tyres were blown on Lovers Lane in Toodyay.

The Toodyay border.
Camera IconThe Toodyay border. Credit: Cally Dupe/Countryman

It will be alleged when he was told he was not allowed through the checkpoint, Mr Hall sped away and ignored another officer who directed him to stop.

Police say he was arrested and will be issued with a summons to appear in court at a later date.

Drivers are being urged to respect the road rules as travel restrictions ease between regions, with the partial lifting of regional travel restrictions expected to increase traffic on both city and regional roads. Road Safety Minister Michelle Roberts has issued a warning for motorists, urging drivers to plan their journey, stay focused and remain patient.

“It’s natural that after several weeks of lockdown, West Australians will want to visit friends, loved ones or just simply go for a drive,” she said.

“There will be a lot more traffic on the road and for some, it may have been a while since they have got behind the wheel.

“For those on long trips, take regular breaks, don't drive tired, and please drive to the conditions.”

The warning comes as recorded road fatalities are the lowest they have been in more than a decade in the year to date.

There were seven road deaths recorded in April, compared with 16 last year and 21 in 2018. The partial easing of restrictions has also seen nine regional borders come down, which has left only four travel zones, and reunited the Goldfields with Esperance once again.

Restrictions on travel to biosecurity zones and remote communities remain in place for now.

Ms Roberts commended West Australians for respecting regional borders during the past two months, but said this behaviour needed to continue.

“We have done a fantastic job abiding by the intrastate travel restrictions to help halt the spread of COVID-19 in our State,” she said.

“Let’s continue to do the right thing, be courteous and respectful of other road users, abide by the road rules, and make sure your journey is a safe one,” she said.

WA Police traffic patrols will be out in full force to ensure West Australians are doing the right thing.

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