TRAFFIC AND CRIMES AMENDMENT (MENACING AND PREDATORY DRIVING) BILL
The Hon. M. R. EGAN (Treasurer, Minister for Energy, Minister for State and Regional Development, Minister Assisting the Premier, and Vice-President of the Executive Council) [2.55 p.m.]: I move:
I seek leave to have my second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.
That this bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this Bill is to introduce a comprehensive package of measures to address Road Rage.
Road Rage is a new phenomenon both overseas and in Australia. It is, as Honourable Members will be aware, a matter of serious public concern.
Road Rage is a term which encompasses many forms of frightening, intimidatory and aggressive behaviour by drivers.
Recently, responsible and law abiding members of the general community have begun to fear what should be an everyday routine event - driving on a public road.
The package of measures includes serious offences to deter and deal with Road Rage. The legislation before the House aims to improve the safety and protection of NSW drivers from those unable to control their emotional responses arising out of a traffic incident.
The Government has moved swiftly to send the strongest message - that Road Rage will not be tolerated on NSW roads. Those drivers who through deliberate, reckless or irresponsible driving frighten responsible and law-abiding motorists will be severely dealt with.
The Bill provides for two menacing driving offences in the Traffic Act.
Firstly, "menacing driving" -
Where the driver ought to have known that another person might be menaced.
This offence has been created as the offence of menacing driving with intent, which I refer to shortly does not cover situations on the road where, although intent may not be established, any reasonable person would have known that their actions might menace another driver.
"Menacing driving" will apply where a person drives in a manner which menaces another and where the driver ought to have known that the other person might be menaced.
This new provision is designed to protect drivers from being subjected to frightening and intimidatory driving.
An example of this behaviour is where a vehicle is being driven very close to the vehicle in front, perhaps accelerating hard and then braking suddenly. A reasonable driver would refrain from this behaviour because of the potential to frighten the driver in front.
Such behaviour, commonly referred to as "tailgating" is both frightening and dangerous. No reasonable driver would be unaware of the effect of this behaviour.
Of course, this new offence will require a person to be actually menaced.
The Bill proposes a penalty for a first offence of $2,000 and/or 12 months gaol and $3,000 and/or 18 months gaol for a subsequent offence.
Secondly, "menacing driving with intent" -
There is a similar existing offence under the Traffic Act of "menacing driving". This offence is one by which the person drives a motor vehicle in a manner that menaces another person and the person intended to menace that other person.
Existing penalties under the current Act for a first offence of $1,500 and/or 9 months gaol are clearly inadequate and do not reflect community concern about this behaviour.
Accordingly the Bill provides for a doubling of these penalties to $3,000 and/or 18 months gaol.
The penalty for a subsequent offence are also substantially increased to $5,000 and/or 2 years gaol.
To deal with the most serious incidents of Road Rage, a new offence of "predatory driving" has been created.
The predatory driving offence is committed where a driver pursuing or travelling near another vehicle engages in a course of conduct that causes or threatens impact with the other vehicle and intends to cause a person in that vehicle actual bodily harm.
In some circumstances it could be seen as akin to stalking with a motor vehicle.
I emphasise that impact is not necessary. A drivers vehicle does not need to be hit for that person to have a very real feeling that they could suffer a crippling injury or death.
An example of predatory driving may be where a driver, perhaps in the course of a pursuit, in order to prevent another driver from completing a merging manoeuvre swerves at the other driver’s vehicle, perhaps running it off the road. This is dangerous and life threatening behaviour.
Reasonable drivers within the community should be protected from these frightening, intimidatory and aggressive forms of behaviour which can result in death or permanent injury. The Government is committed to making NSW roads the safest in the world. There is no place for aggressive, often life threatening behaviour on our roads.
The penalties to deal with and deter menacing and predatory driving reflect the seriousness of the offences.
I will detail those penalties shortly.
I have informed the House that the maximum penalties for intentional menacing driving have been significantly increased. The Government offers no apology for this.
The maximum penalties which I have outlined for the new lesser offence of menacing driving where it is not required to prove intent are substantially higher than the current penalties for the existing menacing driving offence.
In framing these penalties the Government has sought to reflect community concern about such unacceptable driver behaviour while ensuring that the penalties remain consistent with the hierarchy of penalties for other serious traffic offences.
A relevant example is the existing offence of dangerous driving causing grievous bodily harm. Currently the maximum term of imprisonment for the offence, when heard summarily, is eighteen months.
It must be kept in mind that the three offences I am referring to in this Bill can occur even though there is no actual physical injury caused.
Turning specifically to "predatory driving" the Bill provides a maximum penalty, where a matter proceeds by indictment, of five years gaol and /or $100,000 fine regardless of whether it is a first or subsequent offence.
If a predatory driving offence is heard summarily by a magistrate the maximum penalties will be 18 month gaol and/or a $10,000 fine consistent with other serious traffic offences.
And persons committing these offences can additionally, subject to the order of the Court, face licence disqualification of 3 years if they have not committed a major traffic offence in the preceding 5 years, and 5 years disqualification if they have.
Mr President, these are very significant penalties.
Honourable Members, this Bill is a timely response to address the problem of Road Rage. It represents a decisive, but measured and considered response which aims to ensure that the community is adequately protected.
But this does not mean that the Government has closed the case on Road Rage. We recognise the need to educate the community to share the road safely. Motor vehicles, heavy vehicles, buses, taxis, motor cycles, pedestrians and bicycles must all share the road safely.
The Government is currently implementing the "Sharing the Road" Campaign to improve knowledge of road rules and the correct use of traffic facilities and to promote positive and courteous behaviour. The Government has also requested the STAYSAFE Committee to examine the wider ongoing issue of Road Rage and how to improve driver behaviour.
The Hon. JENNIFER GARDINER [2.55 p.m.]: The Opposition does not oppose the bill. The bill has as its first objective to increase the penalty under the Traffic Act for intentional menacing driving from a first offence penalty of $1,500 and/or nine months imprisonment to $3,000 and/or 18 months imprisonment, and for a second offence to increase the penalty to $5,000 and/or two years imprisonment. The bill also creates a second lesser offence of driving in a manner that the driver ought to know might be menacing. For this new offence the penalty will be $2,000 and/or 12 months imprisonment for a first offence. The penalty increases to $3,000 and/or 18 months imprisonment for a second offence.
The bill also creates a new indictable offence under the Crimes Act of predatory driving. That offence will carry a penalty of $10,000 and/or 18 months imprisonment in prosecutions dealt with by way of summary trial, and $100,000 and/or five years imprisonment in matters dealt with by a jury. Menacing driving with intent is already an offence under the Traffic Act. It requires proof of intent to menace, and the bill increases the penalty for that offence. The new offence that is created by this bill, that of driving in a manner that a driver ought to know is menacing, involves driving in a menacing way and in a way which the driver knows perfectly well is menacing to another driver on the road.
Driving in a way that involves dangerous behaviour, such as tailgating, improper flashing of lights, which I know my colleague the Hon. D. J. Gay is very concerned about, or overtaking and suddenly slowing down would be covered under the new provision. As a frequent traveller on New South Wales roads, particularly on major highways such as the Hume Highway where this sort of phenomenon can be extremely disturbing, given the speeds at which people normally travel on major freeways, I welcome that provision. In cases of those types of dangerous or menacing driving, proof of actual intention will not be required under this legislation. The offences relating to menacing driving, menacing driving with intent and driving in a manner that a driver ought to know is menacing will carry periods of disqualification from driving for three years, subject to the order of the court, and where no other major traffic offence has been committed in the past five years.
If another major traffic offence has been committed in the past five years, the disqualification period will be for five years. The new offence, predatory driving, is akin to stalking with a motor vehicle. Predatory driving is driving while pursuing or driving near another vehicle and when a driver engages in a course of conduct that causes or threatens impact with another vehicle, and when there is intention to cause bodily harm. In certain cases a summary trial for this offence will be allowed and the penalties for cases involving summary trials are consistent under this legislation with dangerous driving causing actual bodily harm or death, that is, 18 months imprisonment. If the matter is dealt with by way of a jury trial, the legislation provides harsher penalties of up to $100,000 in fines and/or five years imprisonment.
The Opposition will not oppose the bill. However, we are critical of the penalty provisions contained in it, which we believe to be inadequate. The proposed penalties send a message to the community that some of the elements of menacing driving are not taken seriously by the Government. The bill fails to deal with carjacking, and that is another shortcoming. Last year the Premier, Mr Carr, undertook to ensure that severe penalties for
carjacking would be introduced following some serious incidents on New South Wales roads. Penalties for carjacking should have been included in the bill. This is just another example of the Government’s broken promises. The Opposition is disappointed about certain deficiencies in the bill, but at least it is a step in the right direction. We will not oppose the bill.
The Hon. D. J. GAY [3.01 p.m.]: I support the bill, but I am concerned that it treats the result rather than the cause. I do not applaud road rage and the situations covered by the bill. However, I applaud the Government for addressing these issues, even though the causes of road rage remain. The bill refers to menacing and predatory drivers, but it does not refer to stupid and selfish drivers - drivers who cause people to lose their cool, including people who drive in the right-hand lane on a freeway or tollway, where the traffic is allowed to travel at 110 kilometres an hour, and sit beside another car that is travelling at 90 kilometres or 100 kilometres an hour. If we are going to be fair dinkum about road rage, we have to look at the causes as well as the result. I would be happier if the bill treated stupid, arrogant and selfish drivers the same as it treats menacing and predatory drivers.
Another example is people who feel that it is their God-given right to have their lights on high beam. These people fail to dip their lights as they pass other cars, which is against the law. Other motorists are put into an unsafe situation, particularly on a wet night when the high beam is glaring through the window, reflecting off the windscreen. I now raise one of my greatest concerns. During the sittings of Parliament I have to drive through Sydney traffic on a daily basis. We have to rationalise cyclists, bicycle couriers and cars. There is a problem with traffic in Sydney. Motorists are frustrated when cyclists come between the lanes at traffic lights - and often run their handlebars along the sides of cars and hit the mirrors - then pull into the middle of the traffic as the lights change, and hold up traffic until the next set of lights, where they hold up another set of traffic. We have to address the correlation between cars and cyclists.
The Hon. I. Cohen: Get the cars off the road.
The Hon. D. J. GAY: The Hon. I. Cohen has made an unusually trite remark; he is normally more sensible.
The Hon. Ann Symonds: He is just being frivolous.
The Hon. D. J. GAY: Yes, people are being frivolous. I am serious about this. These sorts of situations make people lose their tempers. I do not agree with them losing their tempers, but we have to remove the cause wherever possible. We have to address the problems caused by courier bikes on pedestrian crossings. I have been hit twice by courier bikes on pedestrian crossings.
The Hon. M. R. Egan: It was probably your fault.
The Hon. D. J. GAY: It was not my fault! What a stupid comment from the Leader of the Government. Couriers should not be riding bikes across pedestrian crossings; they should be pushed across.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile: They often go against the red lights as well.
The Hon. D. J. GAY: Yes, they go against red lights. We have to address the slow cars in the fast lane; cars with their lights on high beam; and courier bikes and cyclists that go through the middle of lanes, pull in front and then hold up traffic.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. NILE [3.05 p.m.]: Call to Australia supports the Traffic and Crimes Amendment (Menacing and Predatory Driving) Bill. The bill will increase the existing penalty for the summary offence of intentional menacing driving; create a similar summary offence of driving in a manner that the driver ought to know might menace, with a lesser penalty; and create an indictable offence of predatory driving, with a maximum penalty of five years. We support the bill. Society already has problems with law and order, domestic violence, drug abuse and so on. Now a new phenomenon has emerged. A change in behaviour is occurring, which is serious. I hope the bill will nip it in the bud before it becomes a major social problem. Road rage is now a serious social problem in the United States.
Road rage is defined as behaviour where one driver acts angrily to other drivers - cutting them off, tailgating, giving the finger, waving fists, flashing lights, braking to get rid of tailgaters, et cetera. There is a growing tendency among drivers in the United States - and a minority of drivers in Australia - to change from being an average citizen to a Mad Max. In the United States the rate of aggressive driving incidents - defined as events in which an angry or impatient driver tries to kill or injure another driver after a traffic dispute - has
increased by 51 per cent since 1990. In those cases, 37 per cent of the offenders used firearms, 28 per cent used other weapons, and 35 per cent used their cars. Irresponsible drivers are turning their cars into suburban assault vehicles.
In a United States poll of residents of Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, DC, aggressive driving was listed as a bigger concern than drink-driving. In the United States an AAA study found that since 1990 there had been 218 fatalities directly attributable to enraged drivers. This legislation is needed, even though some people may feel that road rage is only a relatively minor problem. I believe it is a serious problem. If it is not discouraged now, it may become common practice and even be accepted. Such behaviour is totally unacceptable. This bill will help to bring the message home loud and clear to irresponsible drivers, even though they are a minority.
The Hon. M. R. EGAN (Treasurer, Minister for Energy, Minister for State and Regional Development, Minister Assisting the Premier, and Vice-President of the Executive Council) [3.08 p.m.], in reply: I thank honourable members for their contributions to the debate. I commend the bill to the House.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time and passed through remaining stages.
This legislation will send out a message to the public and especially those drivers likely to behave in irresponsible and frightening behaviour behind a wheel that Road Rage will not be tolerated. I commend it to the House.