A sense of perspective

Newcastle Herald

Wednesday 9 October 2002
THE swift rejection by Transport Minister Carl Scully of an NRMA proposal to replace some speeding fines with greater loss of demerit points was not unexpected.

While Mr Scully used the line that double demerit points would lose their effectiveness if used all the time, rather than just in holiday periods, the State Government undoubtedly would notice the loss of revenue.

However, Mr Scully conceded one of the points made by the NRMA that there are anomalies in the fines and points systems. He said he was willing to discuss these with the motoring organisation and consider changes to the demerits system.

The Minister needs to do more than this. He should embrace the NRMA call for a complete overhaul of the penalties system for motorists. Such a comprehensive review was indicated by the Government in the wake of the horrendous loss of 40 lives on NSW roads in the two-week Christmas-new year period of 2000-01.

Several important changes have been made to penalties since then but the system continues to be riddled with what one of its key critics, Pedestrian Council of Australia chairman Harold Scruby, has labelled ‘contradictions, anomalies, irregularities, omissions, injustices and confusion’.

Mr Scruby made the point early this year, as the NRMA did yesterday, that a motorist can drive in a bus lane where no one's safety is at risk and incur a penalty of three points, while more serious offences that involve danger, such as speeding, can involve loss of fewer points or none at all.

His list of no-lost-points offences included driving unlicensed in an unregistered and uninsured vehicle, driving the wrong way up a one-way street, driving negligently and driving along a footpath. Few people, including those who commit such offences, would see these as posing less danger to life and limb than driving in a bus lane.

Mr Scruby also has pointed out the lack of balance in monetary penalties, with the fine for playing loud music in a vehicle being about three times that for driving a vehicle with an obscured, defaced or illegible number plate, something that enables a driver to avoid every speed and red-light camera in the State.

The Government has tackled a handful of the matters on Mr Scruby's long list, including substantial increases in the penalties for using mobile phones while driving. But this sort of piecemeal approach is not good enough. Mr Scully noted yesterday that the road toll was up this year. He surely will support a review of penalties that aims to ensure they are effective in helping to get the toll down and keep it down.