TRAFFIC AMENDMENT (DISQUALIFICATION FOR SPEEDING) BILL
The Hon. M. R. EGAN
(Treasurer, Minister for State Development, and Vice-President of the Executive Council) [11.48 a.m.]: I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard
The Bill before the House demonstrates the Government’s ongoing commitment to improving road safety in NSW.
In particular the Government is endeavouring to deter those irresponsible drivers who pose a threat to others by continuing to speed. In conjunction with the initiative to double demerit points for speeding offences over the public holidays, the Government proposes to introduce a new penalty of one month disqualification from driving for exceeding the speed limit by more than 30 km/h but not more than 45 km/h.
As I outlined to the House on 18 November the double demerit points for speeding and the additional one demerit point for other offences will commence from midnight 23 December and extend through to the 4th of January. That scheme will also operate over the Australia Day holiday running from 23 to 26 January.
The purpose of this Bill is to introduce a penalty of automatic licence disqualification of at least one month for drivers who are convicted of exceeding the speed limit by more than 30 km/h but not more than 45 km/h during the Christmas and January period.
The Bill also provides for the situation where the matter does not go to court but the infringement notice is paid. It allows the RTA to impose one months licence cancellation under section 11AB of the Traffic Act.
Holiday road safety is of vital concern to the people and the Government of NSW. Last January there were 69 deaths from road accidents in NSW. This was three times as many deaths as for the same month in 1996. The Government is committed to protecting law abiding motorists and innocent members of our community on the roads in the coming Christmas and January Holiday period.
Speeding is a very significant cause of road accidents. In NSW last year speeding was a factor in 38 percent of fatal accidents, resulting in the deaths of 221 people. A further 4000 people were injured.
Currently a driver convicted of exceeding the speed limit by more than 30 km/h but not more than 45 km/h incurs an infringement notice penalty of $345 (or $517 if driving a coach or heavy vehicle) and loses 4 demerit points.
The amendment imposes an additional penalty of at least one month licence disqualification. The current disqualification for exceeding the speed limit by more than 45 km/h is 3 months.
This amendment allows for a graduated disqualification period, related to the seriousness of the offence in a period of high risk.
Speeding impacts on the road toll in several ways. It increases the probability of an accident happening. It also increases the severity of injury in an accident.
A driver who is speeding is more likely to be involved in an accident because the vehicle takes longer to stop in an emergency. Also the driver’s field of vision is narrowed so that he or she is less likely to see possible hazards on the roadside, for example a child about to dart out onto the road
A vehicle travelling at a speed of 30 km/h over the limit, in a residential area in particular, represents a serious hazard to other road users, particularly the more vulnerable groups such as pedestrians and bicyclists.
An increase in speed also dramatically increases the severity of an accident when it does happen.
Enforcement of the speed limits is one strategy to reduce speeding. The threat of losing their licence is a significant deterrent for most drivers. This amendment ensures that drivers convicted of excessive speeding will lose their licence for at least one month.
The Hon. JENNIFER GARDINER
I commend the Bill to the House.
[11.49 a.m.]: The purpose of this bill is to introduce a special one-off penalty from 24 December 1997 until 31 January 1998 so that a person convicted of exceeding the speed limit by 30 kilometres per hour but not more than 45 kilometres per hour will be disqualified from holding a licence for at least one month. On several occasions the Government introduced measures similar to this involving double demerit points applying for specified periods. The first occasion, which was last year, was deemed a success, although the results of two subsequent trials were somewhat inconclusive. The present penalty for exceeding the speed limit by 30 to 45 kilometres per hour is $517 for heavy vehicle and coach drivers and $345 for other drivers, without automatic licence disqualification. A driver convicted of exceeding the speed limit by more than 45 kilometres per hour is automatically disqualified for three months.
Regrettably, in January this year 69 road deaths occurred, compared to 23 deaths in January 1996. Of course, it would be desirable for the 1998 January figure to be cut back again. These double demerit point blitzes seem to have quite a deal of community support, although there is not yet a convincing case that measures of this type will not eventually lose their shock value. The Opposition hopes that the introduction for one month of the double demerit points loss scheme will not contribute to the development of a blasé attitude amongst drivers. However, it will not oppose the bill. In supporting the passage of the bill the Opposition appeals to all drivers to drive carefully during the Christmas and new year holiday period so that fewer people are grief-stricken as a result of fatal and serious car accidents in the festive season immediately ahead.
The Hon. ELISABETH KIRKBY
[11.51 a.m.]: The Australian Democrats support the Traffic Amendment (Disqualification for Speeding) Bill. Honourable members would be aware that this measure represents the Christmas crackdown on speeding. A new penalty will be in force for the period from Christmas eve to the end of January. Under this penalty a person convicted of exceeding the speed limit by more than 30 kilometres per hour will automatically lose his or her licence for at least a month. Honourable members do not need to be reminded that the Christmas holiday period is a time of great joy. But it is also a time of sadness, both on and off the road. Many families travel long distances to go on holiday or to visit relatives at a time when the roads are very crowded and, of course, in the January heat. If the heat of recent days is an indication of what is to come, this year’s holiday season is likely to be an unpleasant and hot period.
Impatience on the roads also creates problems. It causes people to make poor decisions in overtaking at speed, and many people simply drive for too long in an effort to get to their destinations earlier. Of course, these practices are a recipe for disaster. Regrettably, many young drivers do not think that they will be involved in an accident. However, I wonder whether the measure proposed will have much effect on people’s driving habits. The scheme worked quite successfully over the last holiday period, but I am afraid the threat of losing one’s licence for months will not be on the minds of those who drive up the Pacific Highway at high speed. The best deterrent is a visible police presence - not hidden radar traps, but patrol cars on the road moving amongst the traffic. Nothing slows down a driver faster than the sight of a police car in his or her rear-view mirror. I support the initiative before the House and hope that it has the desired effect. However, I hope that the Minister for Police will combine the legislation with the provision of more patrol cars along the road - a measure which will force people, simply by example, to slow down.
The Hon. J. S. TINGLE
[11.54 a.m.]: I also support the Traffic Amendment (Disqualification for Speeding) Bill and endorse the remarks made by the Hon. Elisabeth Kirkby. The bill has been the subject of some contention and public debate. Some people have said it is simply an attempt by the Government
to raise revenue over the holiday period. I could not disagree more with that point of view. Importantly, the Government recognises that during the holiday period people sometimes behave in a manner different from the way in which they might behave at other times of the year. As a person who takes a keen interest in road safety issues - I did so during my radio career and I do so now through my position on the Joint Standing Committee upon Road Safety - I applaud the Government for its initiative in disqualifying drivers who exceed the speed limit by 30 kilometres per hour but not more than 45 kilometres per hour during the Christmas holiday period.
For far too long we have tolerated what can only be described as antisocial behaviour on our roads. I live on the mid-north coast of New South Wales in the wonderful and popular resort town of Port Macquarie - its population quadruples over the holiday period - and I can assure this House that one takes one’s life into one’s hands when travelling on the Pacific Highway at this time. The mad rush to escape Sydney when school finishes, or after Christmas lunch, to arrive at one of the many holiday resorts, seems to have some drivers in blinkers. They have tunnel vision; safety does not come into the equation. The thought of a fine is merely shrugged off. So what if they lose a couple of demerit points and their pockets are a little lighter! All they can think of is getting to their chosen holiday resort in the quickest possible time so as not to waste one minute of time which could be spent lying by the pool with a cold drink in their hands.
One Christmas holiday period, when I was on my way home to Port Macquarie, I witnessed the reason why this bill is so important. I was overtaken by a family of four - a mum, a dad and two boys - travelling in an ordinary family sedan and towing a trailer. The driver was overtaking everything on the road and crossing double white lines to do so, even though an 80-kilometre per hour speed limit applies to cars towing trailers or caravans. This "minor" traffic infringement occurred on the infamous Bulahdelah bends, where at the time a 70-kilometre per hour speed limit applied. If that was not enough, each member of this family, which was in a holiday mood, had headphones on and was bopping away in his or her private world, oblivious to anything beyond his or her little cocoon - a disaster going somewhere to happen!
Whenever I travel around this State by road I see drivers blatantly ignoring speed limits, impatient in their desperate need to get to their destination. Something must be done. My problem with this legislation is that it does not apply all year round. A driver who behaves in the manner prescribed in the legislation will simply have his or her licence suspended for one month. Perhaps the period of disqualification should be longer. However, behind all this legislation is the belief that the public will take notice of the penalty. It is a sad fact that many of these antisocial morons totally ignore any form of disqualification - to the disadvantage of all of us, and perhaps in many cases to our sorrow. Christmas should be a time of joy for all. I hope this legislation will save at least one family from the horrors so often experienced from the carnage on the roads.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. NILE
[11.57 a.m.]: The Christian Democratic Party is pleased to support the Traffic Amendment (Disqualification for Speeding) Bill which will create a new penalty for the period 24 December 1997 to 31 January 1998 inclusive, whereby a person convicted of the offence of exceeding the speed limit by more than 30 kilometres per hour but not more than 45 kilometres per hour will be disqualified from holding a licence for a period of at least one month. I am sure honourable members would agree that the disqualification period for drivers who exceed the speed limit to such an extent should be more than one month. The current penalties for the offence of exceeding the speed limit by more than 30 kilometres per hour but not more than 45 kilometres per hour are a loss of four demerit points, a fine of $517 for heavy vehicle and coach drivers and a fine of $345 for other drivers. At present there is no automatic licence disqualification for the offence.
Under section 4A of the Traffic Act a driver convicted by a court of the offence of exceeding the speed limit by more than 45 kilometres per hour is automatically disqualified from holding a licence for a period of three months. Under the proposed amendment drivers exceeding the speed limit by more than 30 kilometres per hour but not more than 45 kilometres per hour will have the option of paying the infringement notice or going to court, as is currently the case for drivers who exceed the speed limit by more than 45 kilometres per hour. During 1996 excessive speed was implicated in 38 per cent of fatalities, compared to a figure of 35 per cent for 1995; illegal alcohol consumption was involved in 18 per cent of fatalities occurring during 1996, compared to 23 per cent for 1995; and the involvement of fatigue in fatal accidents was steady at 17 per cent. Therefore, excessive speed remains the main cause of fatal accidents on New South Wales roads. In January 1997 New South Wales had 69 deaths from road accidents, compared with 23 deaths for the same month in 1996.
During the holiday period apparently many drivers relax their normal concentration. They may have family members crowded into one car and be distracted by children and so on. The main group involved in road accidents in which speed is a factor seems to be young people. I am a member of the Standing Committee on Law and Justice which is investigating catastrophic motor accidents and how to care for the victims of such accidents. Not only do fatalities occur in those accidents but in one year there has been an increase of nearly 300 in the number of people who have suffered brain injury, in the main, or spinal injuries resulting in quadriplegia or paraplegia.
One matter arising from those investigations that shocked me was the number of young people in the 18 to 24 age group who were killed or seriously injured in motor vehicle accidents. Those who were injured probably never imagined that they might spend up to 50 years with permanent injuries. The committee is also trying to establish how to cover the costs of providing the permanent care required by victims who cannot care for themselves, which is a large burden on the community. Those are the two issues at stake. The Christian Democratic Party completely supports the Government’s introduction of this legislation. We hope that people will be discouraged from speeding and that those who do not usually drive a lot other than at Christmas time and in the holiday seasons will take far more care than they normally do.
The Hon. I. COHEN
[12.02 p.m.]: I support the Traffic Amendment (Disqualification for Speeding) Bill. The Greens are concerned about the number of serious injuries and deaths that occur on the State’s roads and support the initiative of the Government on this matter. The Greens consider double demerit points to be a good idea. The Greens are aware of the statistics that reveal that 38 per cent of the fatalities on the roads are caused by speeding vehicles. We agree with the Hon. J. S. Tingle that the Government should act to introduce more severe penalties for speeding offences throughout the year. Almost certainly the onset of the holiday season, when people travel long distances by car, and the condition of the roads will lead to major accident problems.
The Greens believe that there should be greater focus on solving the problems caused by speed and the attitudes of the driving public than on improving the roads solely. There must be an attitudinal change among drivers. As the Hon. Elisabeth Kirkby said, a visible police presence on the roads is the most effective way of dealing with the problem. However, stronger punitive measures, particularly at this time of the year, are strongly supported by the Greens. The Greens want action to be taken to limit the power of vehicles by the use of governors to prevent them from travelling at excessive speed.
The 38 per cent of fatalities caused by speed is just the tip of the iceberg. Serious accidents not resulting in fatalities must be taken into account. All honourable members will have observed people acting irresponsibly on the roads, particularly at holiday times. Any legislation that can reduce, even by one, the number of fatalities in severe road accidents is appropriate. Motorists who act irresponsibly deserve to lose their licence. Obviously fines should be increased all year round. The Greens strongly support the bill.
The Hon. M. R. EGAN
(Treasurer, Minister for State Development, and Vice-President of the Executive Council) [12.04 p.m.], in reply: I thank members for their contributions to the debate.
Bill read a second time and passed through remaining stages.