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Junior drag racing: coroner wants safety improved after death of eight-year-old girl

A coroner has called for more training and safety measures in junior drag racing after an eight-year-old Perth girl was fatally injured in a crash while trying to obtain her licence.

Anita Board slammed into a concrete safety barrier next to an exit gate at Perth Motorplex on 11 November 2017 – two days after she reached the minimum age to apply for a competition licence.

Before her solo licence pass attempt, she had to a repeat a test because she appeared nervous.

She then became tearful when her vehicle had a flat tyre.

After it was fixed, her father, Ian Board, noticed she was a bit hesitant, but she said she still wanted to go down the track, smiling and giving the thumbs-up, then doing a fist pump.

She did not slow down after crossing the finish line and was going too fast to safely turn through the exit gate, so Ian Board was hoping she would continue on straight, as he had taught her to do.

He told the inquest he believed he saw an official signalling with one hand to slow down and waving her towards the exit gate with the other.

Most witnesses said it appeared she did not brake, but Ian Board told the coroner she might not have applied enough pressure.

While the crash did not look severe, Anita was found unconscious, initially not breathing and had a weak pulse. She was rushed to hospital but had sustained severe brain injury.

The coroner Sarah Linton said the sport was inherently dangerous and she found it “difficult to come to terms with the idea of children being put at risk in this way”.

“However, I have heard, and I accept, the evidence of the witnesses involved in drag racing that the risks for junior drag racers are much lower than they might superficially appear,” she said.

“Views differ between the general community and the local drag racing community as to whether her death could be said to be foreseeable.”

Witness Simon Cope, whose daughter also races, told the inquest more needed to be done to promote a safety-conscious attitude in the sport, saying there had been “an ongoing disregard for applying the current rules consistently for a long time”.

“While Anita’s death could be described as a freak accident, he had witnessed many disturbing safety issues that had made him feel an incident like this, while unprecedented, was inevitable,” the coroner said.

Linton made seven recommendations, saying there was “a lot to be said” for ensuring children had more comprehensive and independently regulated training before they could get their drag racing licence.

“I am also satisfied that more can be done to improve the general safety of the venue,” she said.

The state government banned junior drag racing pending a full coronial investigation, and children have been travelling interstate or overseas to pursue the sport since Anita’s death, including her sister.

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