Social media reaches into almost every aspect of our lives these days, and it has proven to be both useful and dangerous.
It offers a great deal of convenience, but at the same time it has the potential to land us in hot water like never before.
There has been a significant amount of publicity in recent weeks surrounding demerit point fraud, and it seems that social media sites like Facebook are being used to facilitate the activity.
Demerit point fraud goes something like this
So how does it work?
A vehicle owner commits a traffic offence, such as speeding, and is issued with a fine and a demerit points notice. Because the law recognises that the owner of the vehicle may not have been driving the vehicle at the time of the offence, included with the notice is a statutory declaration that can be completed by the owner if another person was driving the car.
The owner has already accumulated a number of demerit points and the new points will exceed the points threshold, causing their licence to be suspended.
Rather than allowing that to happen, the owner posts a message on Facebook and other social media sites asking for someone to take the points in exchange for a cash payment.
Part of the deal is that the driver makes the statutory declaration naming the other person as the driver. A new fine and demerit points notice would then be issued to that person.
One of the major issues with this scenario is that drivers who habitually break the law by speeding, driving through red traffic lights, or disobeying other road rules, are able to side-step penalties by assigning their demerit points to someone else. So the very people whom the system seeks to deter are not being deterred at all.
How does the demerit points system operate?
Demerit points are allocated across Australia for a wide range of traffic offences.
Holders of unrestricted drivers’ licences are allowed 13 demerit points before their licence is suspended and they are no longer allowed to drive a vehicle.
Different offences attract different points. For example:
- Speeding attracts up to seven points.
- Using a mobile phone while driving usually attracts three points.
- Failure to wear a seatbelt attracts three points.
- Consuming alcohol while driving attracts three points.
The points are accumulated on a person’s driving record for a period of three years. Once there are 13 or more points, the person’s licence is suspended for up to five months. Double demerit points can be incurred on public holidays.
In February 2015, increased penalties came into effect. Now, drivers who exceed their demerit point thresholds on two occasions in a five-year period will be required to complete driver education training and testing, a penalty which may also be a factor in the current demerit point trade.
What are the penalties if you’re caught?
On its face, the trade in demerit points may seem like a great idea – it seems so easy, and it’s a quick way to make a buck or keep your licence.
But whether you are trying to offload the points or accepting the points, the reality is that you are taking huge risks.
Knowingly making a false statutory declaration is a criminal offence, with a possible prison term of up to five years and hefty fines.
This may also mean that you get a criminal record, which may affect your ability to get a job, travel, volunteer, apply for insurance and vote, among other things. The only way to avoid a criminal record if you plead guilty is for your lawyer to convince the magistrate to grant you a ‘section 10 dismissal or conditional release order’; which means guilty but no conviction recorded.
If you accept another person’s demerit points for a benefit, you may also be conspiring with the driver to pervert the course of justice and you may be charged with a criminal offence.
If you complete a statutory declaration saying that you were the driver of the vehicle and you weren’t, you may be imprisoned for a period of up to seven years.
How can you be caught?
If you are charged with demerit point fraud, the relevant authority will have spent some time collecting evidence to support the charges.
If you are a driver who has posted an appeal on social media for someone to take on the points in exchange for money, this can serve as a documentary record.
Even if you delete the post from your account, a permanent record will have been created and stored by the social media site, which can be accessed by investigators.
If you have posted a comment agreeing to accept the points in exchange for payment, again, there will be a permanent record which can be accessed by investigators.
Also, you may have been photographed committing the offence, for example by a red light camera. Photographs can also be used as evidence and some will clearly show an image of the driver of the vehicle.
Has anyone been prosecuted over this sort of activity?
Perhaps the most well-known prosecution in recent years was the case of former Federal Court Judge Marcus Einfeld.
In 2006, Einfeld’s car was detected by a speed camera travelling 10 kilometres per hour over the speed limit. The fine for the offence was $77, but Einfeld claimed that an American friend was driving the car.
It was later discovered that the friend had died three years earlier. Einfeld was convicted of lying to evade a speeding fine, and sentenced to a minimum of two years’ imprisonment. The judge hearing the matter said that Einfeld’s story was “deliberate, premeditated perjury.”
A common problem
Prosecutions for fine evasion are common and are publicised in an attempt to deter others from similar behaviour.
The recent increase in penalties for traffic offences may result in more people attempting to evade fines and demerit points.
This is particularly so because social media makes it so easy to find people willing to take on demerit points for a fee, even though anything that is posted could be used in evidence to support a prosecution.
Fine and demerit point evasion is against the law, and penalties can include imprisonment. If you have concerns about demerit points, you should seek the immediate advice of an experienced traffic lawyer.