NSW Premier Mike Baird, like a lot of us, slipped up while behind the wheel recently.
Just before getting into his car, Baird was at the South Curl Curl Surf Club cafe on the Northern Beaches with his wife Kerryn, enjoying a coffee.
But he was caught-out after doing an illegal U-turn and not wearing a seat belt.
Even worse, it was a long weekend, so double demerits applied.
However, the young patrol officer who stopped Baird decided to let him off with just a caution.
While many would be elated at this good fortune, Baird decided to hand himself in to a Manly police officer after thinking the whole thing through.
What penalties did Baird face?
Baird’s illegal U-turn across double lines was contrary to regulation 132 (2A) of the Road Rules Act 2014 (NSW). It attracts a fine of $311 and three demerit points.
Not wearing a seat belt falls under regulation 264 of the same Act, and comes with a fine of $319. It also carries three demerit points; or six points on the double demerits weekend when Baird was driving.
Considering that a fully licensed driver only has 13 points before they are suspended, Baird’s long weekend could have caused him to lose the bulk of those points. Indeed, a driver in his position would normally accrue 9 demerit points for the same conduct.
But even after handing himself in, Baird only received the $311 fine and three demerit points for the illegal U-turn – and no penalty for the seat belt offence.
Baird stated he has since paid the fine.
What were Baird’s motives?
Not many people would voluntarily hand themselves in – and it might be be even more surprising to some that a politician would choose to do so.
Police officers have discretion when it comes to handing out fines – which means that the officer who decided not to fine Baird was within his power to do so.
A NSW police spokesperson stated that “all officers have the legal authority to use discretion in the performance of their duty.”
It is unclear why the patrol officer chose to exercise his discretion and let Baird off, although there are many studies which suggest that police are far less likely to exercise their discretion when it comes to minority and other disadvantaged groups.
Many of us would welcome clemency – but not Baird, who stated that he wanted a fine in order to “to make sure there could be absolutely no suggestion of special treatment.”
Maybe Baird thought it would be best to own up to it, rather than face possible allegations later on that he had received a lenient penalty due to his position.
Baird is by no means the first politician to volunteer less-than model-behaviour – Leader of the Opposition, Luke Foley, admitted a drink-driving conviction, and Labor candidate Edwina Lloyd admitted to drug charges before the NSW state election earlier this year.
On the other hand, Baird’s unfortunate predecessor Barry O’Farrell emphatically denied receiving an expensive bottle of wine as a gift, and the ensuing scandal led to his resignation.
Perhaps ‘better safe than sorry’ was the wisest course for Baird. At least by being proactive, the Premier realised he would get to dictate the story, and perhaps even score brownie points for being so honest.