Monday, February 23, 2009

No Room For Honest Mistakes

It’s a great paradox that everybody wants to get tough on hoons and dangerous drivers, and there are strident demands for something to be done whenever a child is run over outside a school, but at the same time we are now whining that the demerit points system is too harsh when we get caught out ourselves. If speeding is dangerous surely it is fair enough that those of us caught breaking the rules should be punished. Or is it always that simple?

The number of people losing their licenses due to accumulated demerit points is rising dramatically, and a substantial proportion of the offences involved are described as low range speeding offences. Anything from one to fifteen kilometers per hour over the speed limit will see you booked, fined, and stung with three demerit points, or four if it’s in a school zone. If you are silly enough to do it during a double demerits period it is easy to see how the maximum twelve points can be accumulated very quickly.

Critics are suggesting that this is too harsh, too draconian, and leaves people with otherwise good driving records at risk of losing their licenses due to a couple of careless moments. Two or three simple unintentional mistakes can rob an otherwise responsible driver of a license, and for many people that also means their livelihood. There is no distinction between someone who exceeds the limit by one kilometer per hour and someone who breaks the limit by 14. Either way it’s a fine and three demerit points.

I would have thought that no one would actually get booked for exceeding the speed limit by one kilometer per hour, but I have been astounded to receive calls from listeners telling me otherwise. That’s outrageous because the margin for error of most speedometers can be as much as three or four kilometers per hour. If that sort of thing is happening it is nothing more than blatant revenue raising, and a guarantee that even good motorists will be caught out at some time.

The New South Wales government has previously promised to reduce the number of demerit points incurred by low range speeding offences, but as yet it has not happened. The proposal is to cut the three point penalty down to one, which would certainly go a long way toward reducing the number of ordinary everyday motorists getting caught out by minor indiscretions and genuine mistakes.

Another possible approach would be to change the increments at which demerits apply. Perhaps one to five kmh over the limit could attract a small fine with no demerits, then one point for every five kmh over the limit after that. For example, eight kmh over would incur one demerit point, while twelve kmh would cost two points and so on. Once you go past thirty kmh over the limit the penalty can be as tough as you like because anybody that far over the limit clearly isn’t just making an innocent mistake.

Of course, I have said many times before, if you don’t want to get caught, don’t speed. It really is that simple. Most of us have become so casual about the idea of maybe slipping a couple of kmh over the limit without really thinking about it that it’s hard to believe that not everyone does the same thing. But the truth is that there are people on the road who do drive carefully, and who never break the speed limit. They are the ones that we get frustrated with when we are caught behind them in traffic, but they are also the ones who drive all their lives and never get a ticket.

As for the rest of us, it would be both just and reasonable to provide a little latitude for those who have made an honest mistake.

(Apologies for the American spelling but Microsoft Word keeps autocorrecting it and I can't be bothered changing it.)

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