Sun-Herald - Sunday 16 January, 2005

Scanner to tackle surge of illegal drivers

By Sean Berry

NSW police are spending $1.5 million on a device designed to halt an epidemic of unlicensed drivers on our roads.

More than 60,862 people were charged or booked in NSW during 2004 after being caught, new police figures reveal.

These include people who have never held a licence, were disqualified drivers, or had the wrong licence class.

Police Traffic Services Commander Superintendent John Hartley said that, in the previous year, 59,913 were caught.

"These drivers have obviously been disqualified or banned for a reason - some have never had a licence before, but some are downright criminals," he said.

A roadside device using automatic numberplate technology will hit NSW roads midyear in a bid to curb offenders.

Canberra police are already using the system with promising results.

"It is like a tripod attached to a computer that can test in a millisecond the vehicle's numberplate as it goes past," Commander Hartley said.

"It allows us to identify if the owner of the car is unregistered or disqualified from driving. We have a set-up with officers further down the road, and what Canberra tells us is that they need a big car park near where they are working for all the people they catch."

Up to 30 of the devices will be deployed across the state.

Despite this, Commander Hartley said it was nearly impossible to detect all offenders and he admitted being staggered each year at the number of unlicensed drivers.

An RTA spokesman said strong penalties acted as a deterrent.

"There is a wide range of penalties to deter motorists

... these range from a $370 fine to a jail term, depending on the nature of the offence," he said.

Pedestrian Council of Australia chairman Harold Scruby said harsher measures were needed.

"These are only the ones who are caught - how long will it take Government to enact legislation that will require people to lose their vehicles when caught unlicensed?" Mr Scruby said. "Every time someone is caught, a magistrate just extends the period these people are off the road, but these people already drive unlicensed.

"The statistics show they are many times more likely to have a crash and the vast majority of those injured or killed by these people are law-abiding citizens."

Staysafe Committee chairman Paul Gibson MP said the existing demerit system might be encouraging people to drive without a licence.

"You don't need a licence to drive a car, all you need is a key. If people are losing their licences too quickly for whatever reason we have to look at that," he said.

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