Lesser-known traffic laws you could be breaking

Australian road rules can be confusing because they are legislated on a state and territory basis. While there are many similarities, they are not the same between states and territories.

In New South Wales, traffic law, otherwise known as the ‘road rules’ are updated from time to time, and it is important for all road users to have a sound knowledge of the current rules; otherwise, you run the risk of committing an offence.

For example, in 2016, New South Wales traffic law changed to make cycling on the road safer. New South Wales drivers must provide a one-metre space when passing a cyclist in speed zones of 60km/h or less. Drivers must leave at least 1.5 metres in higher speed zones. Where it is safe to do so, drivers are permitted to cross a double line (which is in all other circumstances a traffic offence) to maintain this gap.

Lesser-known road rules

Did you know that it is an offence to leave your car unlocked and unattended on the road? According to NSW Road Rule 213, Subsection 5, if a driver is more than three metres from the car and no one is inside, all windows must be secured, and all doors locked. The engine must be turned off, and the parking brake must be applied, with windows secured. The fine for these offences is $116 each.

It is a mistake to think that police do not enforce these laws. This year, a Sydney couple was fined for leaving their truck’s window open while the vehicle was parked immediately outside their home.

Another offence that many people do not know about involves front seat passengers who may be watching a YouTube Clip or a movie on a smartphone or a tablet visible to the driver from the normal driving position. For this offence, the driver can be fined $349 and receive 3 demerit points. If in a school zone, the driver can be fined $464 and receive 4 demerit points.

Many drivers are not aware that if you are caught driving with an animal in your lap, such as a small dog, you can receive a fine of $464 and 3 demerit points. If in a school zone, this can increase to a $581 fine and 4 demerit points.

How demerit points work

Many traffic offences are punishable by fines and ‘demerit points’. The demerit points system is often a source of confusion for drivers.

When you pass your licence and begin driving, you have zero demerit points. However, if you commit a driving offence, the points are added to your driving record.

Your driver licence type determines your demerit point limit. Learner and Provisional (P1) drivers will have their licence suspended for at least three months if they get four or more demerit points during a 3-year period. Provisional (P2) drivers face losing their right to drive if they get seven or more points in three years. Unrestricted drivers are suspended when they reach thirteen points in three years.

If you have received demerit points for an offence, they remain on your record for three years, starting from the offence date. If you reach or exceed your demerit point limit, your licence can be suspended, or renewal of your licence can be refused.

In April last year, a New South Wales woman accumulated 28 demerit points and a $1348 fine after being pulled over by police for using her mobile phone while driving. The woman had three children in the back seat of the car, and police noticed that while the children were in car restraints, the seat straps were not tightened correctly, and none of the seats was anchored properly. The woman was subsequently issued with four infringements – three for the incorrectly fitted child restraints and one for illegally using her mobile phone. Given that she had been pulled over on the Easter long weekend, double demerit points were applied to the offences.

Challenging a fine in court

It is possible to challenge a traffic infringement in court if:

  1. you believe you did not break the law;
  2. if you broke the law but believe the circumstances you were in at the time gave you little choice but to do so; or
  3. if the penalty you received was too harsh.

However, it is wise to seek professional legal advice from an experienced traffic lawyer before you apply to the Court. Although your matter may appear straightforward, it may involve complex legal issues. In these instances, it is advised that you have professional representation in court.

You should also be aware that if you go to court and you are found guilty of the offence, then the courts can impose a larger fine than what the police may issue you. The court can also order you to pay court costs. If found guilty you could also be convicted of an offence which could mean that you end up with a criminal record.

If you have been charged with a traffic offence and want to understand your options, contact us.