NSW gives ground on demerits; drivers get extra points

NSW Government will review controversial demerit points policy while also increasing points for truck drivers from 12 to 14

NSW gives ground on demerits; drivers get extra points
NSW gives ground on demerits; drivers get extra points
By Brad Gardner | November 23, 2010

The NSW Government will review its controversial demerit points policy and increase the number of points truck drivers can accrue before losing their licence.

Premier Kristina Keneally yesterday announced the practice of denying magistrates the right to rule on demerit points will be examined by a working group made up of the NRMA, the Law Society and road safety experts.

Magistrates can currently find someone guilty of an offence but waive monetary fines in extenuating circumstances. However, demerit points will always be applied if someone is found guilty or convicted.

Keneally's decision breaks a long-standing position, with the Government previously refusing to alter the demerit points policy despite repeated calls for reform.

A driver of one trucking company that contacted ATN last year was dealt with under the NSW demerit points policy. The driver faced a $250 fine for incorrectly filling out his work diary.

The magistrate waived the fine because the driver suffered from Asperger Syndrome. However, four demerit points were imposed because the court had no say on the matter.

The review team will also look at automatic demerit points for drink driving offences similar to Victoria, hardship provisions for people who have their licence suspended and alternatives to demerit points such as driver education courses.

"These are important questions for the motoring public and the Government – that’s why we’ve asked a range of interest groups to join with the Government in methodically assessing the value of these proposals," Roads Minister David Borger says.

The review team is expected to deliver a report to the Government on hardship provisions next month and on the other matters by February 2011.

The announcement coincides with changes to demerit points for commercial drivers.

Once legislation passes NSW Parliament, the number of points truck drivers can accrue before their licence is suspended will increase from 12 to 14. Demerit points for motorists will go from 12 to 13.

"These adjustments are timely and proportional. They take into account the growth of speed and safety cameras, as well as an extensive highway patrol presence," Keneally says.

The Government will also amend demerit point offences to bring NSW into line with other jurisdictions. Drivers in NSW can currently lose two points for incorrectly entering or leaving a roundabout, but the penalty will be scrapped under the reforms.

Penalties for disobeying rules to keep left, cutting in front of a vehicle after overtaking and failing to overtake in a safe manner will all be reduced from three to two points.

Motorists will no longer be hit with three points for driving in a truck lane, with the Government scrapping all points for the offence. However, one point will be imposed on motorists caught driving in a bus lane.

As part of the reforms announced by Keneally, cars with mobile speed cameras will be marked with bright colours so motorists can identify them. Warning signs will be erected at least 50 metres prior to the location of the vehicles.

Keneally says the cameras are designed to make people slow down and that most motorists do the right thing.

"Motorists deserve a fair go. We’ve heard community concerns about mobile speed cameras loud and clear and we are responding," she says.

NRMA President Wendy Machin says the Government’s actions will reduce community angst surrounding speed cameras.

"These warning signs will go a long way to building community confidence that these cameras are not about revenue raising but keeping our roads safe," she says.

NSW is planning to significantly increase the number of mobile speed cameras by July next year so that there are enough units to record 12,200 hours of footage a month.

The Director of the Centre for Road Safety at the RTA, Dr Soames Job, says mobile speed cameras are effective in reducing the number of accidents on the road.

It is unclear how many mobile speed cameras will be operating by next year, with Job saying it cannot be determined.

"One company may supply us a very good quote by using fewer cameras and operating for 20 hours a day. Another may consider it more efficient to have twice as many cameras operating 12 hours a day," he says.

Nationals Leader Andrew Stoner last year introduced the Road Transport (Driver Licensing) Amendment (Demerit Points) Bill to give courts the power to rule on demerit points for speeding and red light offences.

The Bill was rejected by the Government and ridiculed by Maitland MP Frank Terenzini, who claimed it would lead to offenders escaping penalties.

"Under this bill, people who are found guilty of an offence, for example, speeding or driving through a red traffic light, will be able to get away with no punishment at all," he said at the time.

Stoner has labelled the existing law an "anomaly" and says demerit points should be dealt with in the same way fines are decided.

"If the fine is waived it is logical that the demerit points should also be waived," he says.

Liberal MP Jonathan O’Dea last year accused the Government of going too far with its demerit points policy, claiming it has led to an increase in the number of people losing their licence.

"Perhaps magistrates should have the power not to impose demerit points for relatively minor offences in extenuating circumstances," O’Dea says.

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