DRIVER LICENCE DEMERIT POINTS
Mr MICHAEL RICHARDSON
(Castle Hill) [1.57 p.m.]: Nobody approves of speeding. Speeding is dangerous; it maims and kills. But, unquestionably, some finetuning is needed to make the demerit points system fairer to motorists. In 2008 an astonishing 60,919 motorists lost their licences for accumulating more than 12 demerit points, an increase of 50 per cent from 2007 and 44,000 more motorists than in 2003. Either motorists have become less law abiding or something is wrong with the system. While I constantly see people doing stupid and reckless things on the road, I do not believe the number of bad motorists has increased. What has changed is the system. The number of points for low-range speeding offences has been increased, 171 speed cameras have been installed around the State, the number of days when double demerits apply has been extended, and motorists' 12 demerit points have had to last for three years rather than two. It is now possible to lose your licence, and potentially your job and house, for exceeding the speed limit twice by five kilometres an hour in a three-year period. This is certainly not a case of the punishment fitting the crime.
No-one condones speeding, but the penalty should be commensurate with the offence. That is why the majority of people will support the announcement last week by the Minister for Roads that low-range speeding offences will henceforth attract only one demerit point. However, there is some way to go to make the system fairer for motorists. The Minister is yet to address the anomaly of a motorist issued with a traffic ticket successfully defending the fine in court but still losing his or her points. Is there any other area of the law where people are still punished when a court finds them not guilty? Incredibly, 244 three-point offences are listed on the Roads and Traffic Authority website. I defy anyone to remember them all, including police officers charged with upholding the law. The points system is supposed to deter unsafe driving practices. Yet one of these three-point penalties is for driving in a bus lane. Surely a $243 fine is a sufficient deterrent in itself? The worst example of bus lane bamboozlement in Sydney would have to be the T-way bridge at Westmead.
It was built as an extension of Mons Road, which runs behind Westmead Private Hospital. There is no barrier at the end of Mons Road to prevent drivers from driving onto the bus bridge. In fact, the bridge simply looks like a continuation of the road—except, of course, that the bitumen colour changes to red. The signage before the bridge is completely inadequate. Several constituents who have been booked and lost three points for travelling on the bridge have reported that a bus travelling in front of them blocked their view of the T-Way signs. Mr Barrie Wilson of Carlingford said he was following a truck, which turned off onto the footpath before the bridge, completely obscuring the "No Entry" and T-Way signs. His situation reminds me of the movie Wild Hogs
in which a truck blocks a sign at a service station warning "Last Gas for 140 miles". As a result, the heroes of the story run out of petrol in the middle of a desert. According to Mr Wilson, the sign on the other side of the road was obscured by foliage. When Mr Wilson wrote to the State Debt Recovery Office and explained his predicament he received a reply from Mr Tim Jessup which stated:
It is the responsibility of all drivers to be aware of the rules that apply to roads they are travelling on, even when they are not familiar with the area.
That statement suggests that before taking his wife to Westmead Hospital for an urgent magnetic resonance imaging test Mr Wilson should have consulted the street directory and perhaps Google Earth just to make sure he knew the lie of the land. Tom Chapman of Glenhaven who was taking his 96-year-old mother to Westmead Private Hospital received a similar letter. He had been unable to reverse along the bus bridge because a bus was behind him. When pensioner Ron Jessel of Castle Hill visited Westmead Hospital for medical tests, because of a lack of long-term parking he was forced to drive around the hospital to look for short-term parking spots. He picked up four tickets on the bus bridge in one day! The $972 in fines would have been bad enough but Mr Jessel also lost three points each time he set out to find a new parking spot. So his trip to Westmead will cost him nearly $1,000 and his licence, unless the Treasurer sees fit to exercise some leniency on the basis of the representations I have made on Mr Jessel's behalf.
Apparently, eight is the record number of bookings on this bus bridge for one person on a single day. Clearly a major problem exists with signage and identification of the T-Way bridge at the end of Mons Road. I have raised this matter for two reasons. First, I ask the Government to improve the warning signs at the end of Mons Road and to install a boom gate to prevent vehicles other than buses from driving onto the bridge as well as a proper turning circle at the end of Mons Road. Second, I emphasise to the Minister the need for an overhaul of the demerit system that goes beyond low-range speeding offences. The points system is designed to discourage unsafe driving practices and to get dangerous drivers off the road.
I do not think driving in a bus lane qualifies. Surely the $243 fine is sufficient penalty without also deducting three points from a motorist's licence. It would be a very rare driver who would want to risk a fine of almost $250. The idea of the penalty is to dissuade motorists from driving in bus lanes. The three-point penalty goes beyond that. It equates driving in a poorly marked bus lane or T-Way with negligent driving, running a red light, failure to give way at a marked intersection, exceeding the speed limit by 15 kilometres per hour and driving without a seat belt. The points penalty for this offence should be abolished and magistrates should be allowed to scrap points as well as fines in court.
Ms ANGELA D'AMORE
(Drummoyne—Parliamentary Secretary) [2.02 p.m.]: I thank the member for Castle Hill for raising these matters. I am sure all members have received representations on the demerit system. It is great that the member for Castle Hill has shown support for the Government's change from three points to one point for low-range infringements that has been welcomed by communities. He also referred to bus lanes and warning signs. I am sure the Minister for Roads will look at those representations. All members know how important it is for drivers to stay out of bus lanes so buses travel on time and pick up passengers. The member's concerns about Mons Road should be examined.