The NSW Government has a road safety policy called “Towards Zero”. It is said the Road Transport Legislation Amendment (Penalties and Other Sanctions) Bill 2018, which came into effect in NSW on 20 May, is part of this policy, designed to drive – no pun intended – the road trauma toll towards zero. But is this legislation the right vehicle to use?
The Victorians have had similar legislation since 1994. The findings of a 2016 VicRoads report (VicRoads “The Effect of Sanctions on Victorian Drink-Drivers” Fri, 16 Sept 2016), showed recidivism (for low-range prescribed concentration of alcohol (PCA) to be in the region of 29 per cent, while similar calculations by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) demonstrated a recidivism rate of approximately 21 percent in NSW.
So how will the new NSW legislation work?
1. The introduction of Penalty Infringement Notices for offences of Novice Range, Special Range and Low Range PCA Section 195 of the Road Transport Act 2013 says police officers may now issue an infringement notice rather than a court attendance notice. An offence finalised by the infringement notice will be dealt with as a first conviction for the purposes of second and subsequent conviction definitions.
2. Immediate suspension. Under section 224 of the Road Transport Act, a police officer may, having detected any of the offences mentioned in (1) above, immediately suspend the driving licence of the person. If the officer does not adopt this course, the Roads and Maritime Service (RMS) will write to the person and advise it will occur on a certain date.
Why is this a problem? Imagine if you wish to take the matter to court. First, you need to be able to get into the State Debt Recovery Office (SDRO) system to seek the issue of a court attendance notice, then you need to elect to take the matter to court.
You could have easily chewed up two months of your three-month disqualification at this point. You then have to get before a magistrate to have the matter heard and determined. How long will it take to get a hearing date for a licence appeal only? A few days or a week or two in the city, but a month or more in a regional or rural area with a busy list or a court that sits infrequently.
3. Interlock for mid-range PCA first offence Pursuant to section 211 of the Road Transport Act, anyone convicted of committing a mid-range PCA offence will now be required to have an interlock device fitted to their vehicle. No longer does the legislation recognize the instrument as a tool for dealing with recidivism. It is now, in effect, a further mandatory penalty provision affecting not only the ability to drive vehicles, but it is also a substantial financial penalty (installation, maintenance and removal fees) in addition to any fine or other punishments meted out by the court.
First, the premise behind the “Towards Zero” policy, to reduce the road toll by being tougher on alcohol and drug related offending is to be applauded.
Second, the courts will make a saving in not dealing with such matters. The actuarial calculation would suggest the time saving is absolutely minimal.
Third, the legislation will diminish rights. This legislation effectively removes the courtroom process by disincentivising people from attending.
Fourth, by removing the courtroom process and the shame, humiliation and embarrassment of having to appear before a magistrate to be condemned for such conduct, the fear of the unknown outcome and being put through the inconvenience and hassle of going to court, a person gets to hide behind an infringement notice. The statistics show it is the court process that changes thought processes and behaviours, thus making people less likely to be a recidivist and in turn, making the roads safer.
Fifthly and perhaps most importantly, the process puts an obstacle in the way of educating the offender regarding the dangers of drink and drug driving. Presently, it is practice of the Local Court at Young (and at surrounding towns having local courts) to require the offender to undertake the Traffic Offenders Intervention Program held over two Saturdays in given months. The rate of recidivism would appear to be extremely low for those attending this program.
Nobody disputes the need to reduce drink and drug driving and the incidence of road accidents but the best way to achieve this is another question.
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