Call for traffic penalties revamp

Daily Telegraph

Wednesday 9 October 2002
By ANTHONY PETERSON


FINES for motorists speeding between 0-15km over the limit should be abolished but the number of demerit points doubled.

That is the most controversial proposal in a discussion paper released by the NRMA yesterday.

The National Roads and Motoring Group paper exposes anomalies in the current scheme where less serious traffic offences attract a similar or greater penalty to dangerous driving.

Examples include breaking the speed limit by up to 30km and driving in a bus lane both incurring three demerit points.

And a driver can lose two points for playing loud car music but nothing for driving the wrong way down a street.

NRMA research shows the majority of its members support the current system where a licence is suspended after 12 points are accrued within three years but they believe traffic infringement offences are dealt with too harshly.

In relation to speeding, which causes 40 per cent of fatal crashes, the NRMA suggested the $118 fine be removed for the first band (15km or less) and the single demerit point doubled to prove the penalties are about safety and not revenue raising.

NRMA deputy president Alex Sanchez said the system risked losing its effectiveness in deterring unsafe driving if the range of penalty points remains inconsistent.

"Demerit points have been used since 1969 to deter NSW motorists from committing offences," Mr Sanchez said.

"However, there are now several offences which relate only to traffic flow but attract the same demerit penalty as serious safety breaches.

"These anomalies seriously risk diluting the impact of the demerit point scheme on efforts to reduce the road toll.

This year there have already been more than 380 fatal crashes, resulting in over 430 deaths."

The NRMA survey also found strong support for double demerit points over long weekend and holiday periods.

But many motorists were confused about how the system worked, with only one third knowing the number of points common offences such as running a red light or not wearing a seatbelt attracted.

Just over 50 per cent of respondents had received demerit points and the driving records of 25 per cent were currently tarnished.

Pedestrian Council chairman Harold Scruby said the system needed to be scrapped.

"These penalties have come about by someone causing a lot of noise at a certain time and some politician reacting to it," Mr Scruby said.

Mr Scruby rejected the no-fine option but suggested heavy penalties up to $1000 be imposed once a driver reached 12-points.

Transport Minister Carl Scully welcomed the discussion paper but rejected "putting money back in the pockets of speeding drivers".

He said NSW would be involved in a review of the 23 core demerit point offences common across the country to be conducted by Ausroads.

"There is a simple message, don't speed," he said.

Opposition roads spokesman John Turner said the review was long overdue and attacked the Labor Government's focus on fines.

Mr Turner said the Coalition's safe driving package would include discounts on licence fees for motorists with five years of unblemished driving.

WEEKEND ROAD TOLL PLUNGES

NSW has recorded its lowest road toll over the Labour Day long weekend, with only one death on the state's roads.

A 36-year-old man who died in a single vehicle accident at Gilgandra, in the state's northwest, on Saturday was the only fatality recorded on the road on the holiday weekend.

Last year's figures were the lowest October road toll for 50 years with two deaths, and about five or six deaths were the norm before that.

Traffic services branch chief Superintendent Ron Sorrenson has praised motorists for their efforts in keeping the toll down.

"Without downplaying the tragedy of the death at Gilgandra, it is gratifying to see no other lives lost on NSW roads," he said yesterday.

"This low toll is reflected in the overall drop in the number of major crashes and people injured during Operation Slowdown 2002 over last year."

A total of 365 drink-driving charges were laid following more than 102,000 breath tests during operation Slowdown, which ended at midnight on Monday.

More than 10,600 speeding offences were recorded excluding RTA fixed speed cameras and 565 serious crashes were reported.

Serious crashes were down by 187 on 2001 figures, while injury numbers were down more than 100 on last year's figures.

But Supt Sorrenson warned that it wasn't time for people to rest on their laurels.

"During the Friday to Monday on the [2001 Labour Day] weekend, there were nine lives lost," he said.

"It's up to motorists to roll on with continued vigilance and attention to their driving habits."

LONG WEEKEND ON THE ROADS

  • 102,202 breath tests

  • 365 drink-driving charges

  • 10,678 speed offences

  • 5087 other traffic offences

  • 565 serious crashes reported

  • 209 people injured

  • One fatality