Over the past several weeks, a worrying trend has begun to emerge on roads up and down the east coast, as drivers with Victorian plates have found themselves dobbed in to police – and in some cases, subjected to road rage – over fears of COVID-19.
Melbourne remains the epicentre of the outbreak in Australia, and while we’ve witnessed an outpouring of support for our friends and loved ones down south, Victorians in other states are viewed with increasing levels of fear and suspicion.
In my home state of Queensland, we’ve all heard rumours about Victorian tourists breezing through the border and into coastal holiday towns, gloating about how they beat the lockdown. While in very few cases they’re true, mostly it’s overblown hype that feeds into a climate of mistrust and paranoia.
Queensland police say they’re getting fed up with receiving calls from residents who have spotted cars with Victorian plates. Some say that concerned locals have tied up resources and created “unnecessary hysteria” by reporting drivers who are lawfully in the state.
Claire*, a 27-year-old woman currently travelling through Queensland in a van with Victorian license plates, told PEDESTRIAN.TV she and her partner had experienced extreme – and sometimes dangerous – hostility on the roads.
“North of Noosa, there have been three separate incidents of people overtaking us above the speed limit and giving us the finger as they aggressively passed, in some cases honking, in others not,” she said.
“We always drive the speed limit and stay left in overtaking lanes to allow other cars to pass us. One incident on the road from Noosa to Hervey Bay, another close to Maryborough and another near Gladstone on the Bruce Highway.”
Claire and her partner, who are Canadian, travelled to Australia long before the borders shut, and have been complying with all COVID-19 guidelines and restrictions. Even so, they’ve been surprised at the hostility they’ve encountered on the roads.
It’s gotten to the point where they’re considering putting a sign on their van: ‘Not from Victoria.’
“On the road between Bundaberg and Agnes Water, we were over taken by a double-long semi truck over the speed limit on a solid line [no passing zone], as they passed us they laid on the horn repeatedly,” Claire said.
“We began to slow so they could pass faster and get back into the correct lane but they cut back into our lane before the end of the trailer was ahead of our vehicle. We were forced to break and drive off the edge of the road to avoid being hit by them. They sped away from us before we thought to get their license plate.”
It’s not just Queenslanders on edge: a recent ABC News report revealed that mechanics in NSW have had an influx of calls from residents who never got around to switching their number plates, and now fear being pulled over.
While we all need to remain vigilant about COVID-19 and maintain good hygiene and social distancing, we can’t let fear and paranoia get the best of us, and we absolutely can’t go putting the lives of others at risk on the roads.
*Not her real name.Image: Getty Images