Challenge us if you're not guilty, RTA says

RTA puts onus on trucking industry: challenge demerit points if you think you've done nothing wrong

By Brad Gardner

The New South Wales Roads and Traffic Authority has put the onus on the trucking industry over the state’s controversial demerit points policy.

As a trucking company prepares to launch legal action against the RTA over the policy, a spokesperson for the government department says it is up to drivers to avoid being penalised.

Demerit points are issued for severe or critical fatigue management breaches, but the spokesperson says anyone who receives an infringement can challenge the matter in court if they think they have done nothing wrong.

"If they [drivers] believe they have a strong case they should plead not guilty to the offence," the spokesperson says.

"If they plead guilty, demerit points will always be applied."

The demerit points policy has drawn widespread opposition because its strips magistrates of the power to waiver points.

In NSW, courts can find someone guilty of an offence but dismiss any monetary penalty in extenuating circumstances.

However, a court’s ability to rule on demerit points for heavy vehicle offences was scrapped in 2005. It means points will still be imposed even if no fine is issued.

"The law requires the RTA to apply demerit points because the person has still been found guilty," the spokesperson says.

The Law Society of NSW President Joe Catanzariti says the policy is wrong because offenders given a second chance by magistrates are still penalised by the RTA.

But a NSW operator fed up with the RTA’s stance will appeal the four demerit points issued to one of its drivers.

The driver was ordered to face court for breaching fatigue management regulations but the magistrate dismissed the case and all costs.

"Everyone was under the impression he [the driver] wouldn’t lose points because the case was dismissed," the trucking owner, who declined to be named, says.

Although the RTA has been accused of misleading the industry on demerit points, the spokesperson says numerous information sessions were held last year outlining the industry’s responsibilities.

"An enforcement grace period for three months was also applied to focus on educating drivers on the new laws," the spokesperson says.

But those who attended information sessions left with the impression magistrates had a say on demerit points.

As such, drivers who were only issued with fines mistakenly left court thinking no other penalty would apply.

Following court cases, the RTA issues letters informing the drivers that points have been imposed.

Minister for Roads Michael Daley says the policy must remain to punish those who put other road users at risk by committing severe or critical fatigue management breaches.

The Opposition has threatened to abolish fatigue management regulations unless the policy is amended.

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