With the New Year now ushered in, many Aussies are on one of our most popular means of getting away over the festive season – a road trip.
Police patrols are prevalent everywhere, fixed and mobile speed cameras are switched on, and double-demerits are in force during certain periods throughout New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory.
But what happens if you are detected for committing a traffic offence in another state or territory? And wat kind of penalties apply?
Local rules and penalties apply
Regardless of your home state or territory, the penalties in the jurisdiction within which your conduct occurs will apply if you are caught breaking the road rules anywhere in Australia.
For example, if you hold a New South Wales driver or rider licence and you’re snapped by a camera going through a red light in South Australia, you will be penalised under the South Australian Road rules.
In Australia, each individual jurisdiction is responsible for managing traffic offences, enforcing road rules and regulating driver licences. While many of the offences are named the same way, there can be differences in terms of exact rules as well as the penalties that apply.
The Australian Road Rules Agreement
One of these differences relates to the double-demerit points scheme during public holidays, which apply only to New South Wales and the ACT.
In Victoria and Queensland, the tram systems have made way for a host of road rules that interstate drivers might not be aware of.
Of course, this can get complicated, but in 1999, the Australian Road Rules Agreement was entered by all states and territories and implemented to ensure a level of consistency across the nation, as well as to provide a platform for the demerit points scheme to operate across intra-national borders.
In all states and territories, drivers holding a full, unrestricted licence are able to accumulate a maximum of 12 demerit points or more within a three-year period.
After that, a driver may face disqualification from holding a licence. New South Wales is an exception – drivers are allowed 13 points in a three-year period.
To help simplify the system for road users, the National Transport Commission’s website publishes ‘Australian Road Rules’ however it is careful to point out that these are basic, general road rules only – with no real legal effect. While these rules form the basis of the road rules of each Australian state and territory, each state and territory has its own laws.
Cameras causing a rise in disputes
In recent years, governments around Australia have embraced the use of road cameras which can detect offences such as mobile phone use, speeding, and not wearing a seatbelt, state and territory government revenue from cameras has soared. Originally, the technology was implemented to ‘free up police resources’ and of course ‘keep people safer on our roads,’ But it has also had its fair share of critics.
Queensland first began trialling the use of AI technology in its cameras in 2020. Authorities maintain that a “trained and authorised officer” reviews AI-identified images before issuing an infringement notice. But earlier this year it became known that more than 600 drivers incorrectly lost their licence and almost 2,000 people were incorrectly fined. The resulting revenue for the Queensland Government has also soared – increasing by as much as 70% in the last financial year.
A similar scenario has played out in New South Wales in recent years after the introduction of sophisticated cameras. Disputes over infringements have also increased.
Serious traffic offences, which cause significant damage to property, or a person will be handled by local police and may result in criminal charges.
How can I challenge a fine in another state or territory?
However, if you have received a penalty notice (a fine) for a minor traffic offence committed in another state, you will have a certain period of time to accept the allegation and pay the fine or dispute it.
Most Australian jurisdictions have a mechanism by which to request a review for a traffic offence, but each will require the driver or rider to persuade the relevant authority that they did not engage in the alleged conduct, and/or that there are exceptional reasons why the notice should be waived.
For that reason, it is important to submit as much relevant material as possible when requesting an internal review.
If the review is refused, the driver or rider can ‘elect’ to take that matter to court, but it should be borne in mind that if the appeal is unsuccessful, penalties that are heavier than the initial fine may come into play; in other words, you could end up with a bigger fine if you defended the case and are found guilty, or if you undertake a driver licence appeal which does not result in a non-conviction order such as a section 10(1)(a) dismissal in New South Wales.
Disputing a traffic fine in New South Wales
In New South Wales, Revenue NSW is the government body which processes fines (you can ask for a payment plan) and handles challenges to fines in the first instance.
If your argument is rejected by Revenue NSW, you can take the matter to court – professional advice is recommended before you take this step because courts do have the power to impose more serious penalties if you are found guilty.
The relevant piece of legislation which governs how fines are issued and enforced is called the Fines Act 1996, it also outlines your rights, and the rights of government agencies to recover money.
Disputing a traffic infringement in Victoria
In Victoria, depending on the offence you have committed you may receive an Infringement Notice (a fine) in one of the following ways:
- on the spot, if you are intercepted/stopped by an issuing officer at the time of the offence
- attached to your vehicle
- in the post
In Queensland, you must pay or challenge a fine within 28 days of the date of the infringement notice or you will face penalties for an overdue fine.
Also in Queensland, unless you are signed up for email updates, you will not receive a reminder to pay. It’s important to act quickly.
There is no ‘review’ system – if you elect not to pay the fine and want to question its validity instead, you will need to take the matter straight to court.
If you wish to dispute a fine in South Australia, you need to contact the SA Government Fines Enforcement and Recovery Unit. you have 30 days to seek a ‘review’, and must lodge you application within that timeframe. There is a fee payable when you lodge your application, otherwise it will not be processed. You will also need to submit detailed evidence and information to support your application.
You have several options if you receive a fine. These are:
- Pay the fine in full
- Apply for a payment variation
- Apply for a review.
- Lodge a Notice of Election for a Court Hearing with the Monetary Penalties Enforcement Service.
The Fines Recovery Unit handles all payments for traffic infringements in the Northern Territory.
Information on the most common driving offences and penalties are outlined on the Northern Territory Government website.
As in other jurisdictions, you can seek a review of the fine and negotiate a payment plan if need be. You can also take the matter to court.
The body that manages traffic infringements in Western Australia is the Fines Enforcement Registry.
You have 28 days to pay the fine, seek a review or take the matter to court. Western Australia has some of the harshest penalties for not paying fines, (as outlined in the Fines, Penalties and Infringement Notices Enforcement Act 1994) including licence suspensions, vehicle immobilisation, vehicle licence cancellation and seizure and sale of your property.
In 2020, the state finally repealed laws which sent people to prison for unpaid fines.
Need traffic law advice and assistance?
If you are facing a traffic offence and are unsure of what to do, call the experienced traffic lawyers at Sydney Criminal Lawyers anytime on (02) 9261 8881 for expert advice and formidable legal representation.