10th September 2017

The laws removing a person’s right to drive are designed to improve compliance and reduce death and injury on our roads. This is a laudable and noble endeavour; however, when that noble cause also creates undesirable consequences, it should be reviewed.

There is no doubt that the strong penalties imposed on drivers who break road laws have a deterrent effect, particularly on young drivers, but the current sentencing (some mandatory) needs to be discussed and reviewed. Sentencing or penalties should be about correcting behaviour not about destroying lives and making things worse for our community.

The total removal of the right to drive can be a terrible penalty with many unintended consequences that do not always achieve the desired effect. If a penalty also means losing employment, this is very severe for a first offence and is counterproductive to the greater community good.

There will be an argument that the transgressors deserve what they get and they made bad choices and put others at risk – perhaps there is merit in that view, but when considering the overall impact of these penalties that they can be disproportionately unfair, particularly for first or young offenders. There needs to be a pragmatic review of the system. Destroying lives is not good Justice.

We are not talking about dangerous, serial or rogue recidivists. They do not deserve compassion.

There is a bias in imposing penalties against those who are employed in the non-professional sphere. Licence Suspensions and Disqualification coupled with fines (often and routinely higher than for property crime and crimes of violence) may utterly destroy those who need a driver’s licence for their job.

Taking away a person’s livelihood for relatively minor offences is cruel and unjust.

The first thing that happens to most trade-orientated defendants is their job is lost and hope of employment in their trade unlikely. Apprenticeships can be lost forever. Some professional people and workers in retail, health and hospitality can access their work by public transport but frequently a  trade worker must be able to drive,  not just to access their workplaces but to undertake their work. Mechanics who cannot test drive a car, or plumbers and carpenters who cannot carry their tools to work, are just some of a myriad of jobs that require a licence. We may, of course, add any employment where a driving licence is an employment condition.

Workers who lose their licences and their jobs lose the capacity to pay fines. Defaulting on penalties can lead to imprisonment. The loss of income also means that any loans un-serviced can result in foreclosure and the probable repossession of the goods, usually their car. This inevitably leads to the downgrading or loss of any form of credit rating. The multiplication effect of penalties does not take into account that the offender still has to live and the penalty is further magnified if the driver is on the lower end of the socio-economic scale. Insolvency and bankruptcy are sometimes inevitable.

In summary, penalties for low range traffic offences and first offenders are destroying lives.

It is incongruous that penalties regularly reported in the media for crimes of violence, drug and property offences (and even some high-range driving offences) seem to be proportionally and sometimes lighter than those imposed on drivers who are first-time offenders for low-range offences.

Poorly applied sentencing penalties will not lead to a reduction in offending, but an escalation as perpetrators convert to victims of the system. They can feel trapped and can see only the option of repeat offending, or resorting to habitual welfare, joining the unemployable.

A feeling of hopelessness and being trapped in the” Unintentional Cycle” pushes many to criminal activity and or drug abuse as an escape or an ill-advised path to a solution. The untold mental damage and perhaps self-destruction is bad enough for the individual but the impact on the community is underrated.

Low-level traffic offenders can go from net contributors to a net liability for the community through welfare.

Drivers need to be accountable for their non-compliance, but we need to review the removal of drivers’  licences to allow the courts to use diversions, conditional Suspensions and Disqualifications.

It seems odd that diversion is the preferred option for the courts in criminal matters, but they do not apply the same standards to traffic matters.  The rationale should be identical.

To remove a licence conditionally by limiting hours of driving so that the defendant can continue to work, would seem to be a fairer outcome and the impact on their social life not unreasonable – though even that may be excessive for a first offender.

Why should we not offer  Good Behaviour Bonds in traffic cases as is done in some other State jurisdictions?

Under the current system, we still have many recidivist traffic offenders. The current regime does not promote compliance to any higher degree than the alternative approach we recommend.

How many of the current crop of recidivist drivers lost their licence for their first offence and ended up in the “Unintentional Cycle”?

We call on the Government to bring about necessary changes to legislation to provide greater flexibility in sentencing for traffic offences in Victoria, making them at least comparative to the criminal sentencing practices.

Ivan W.Ray                                                                                                                                                         Hon. Secretary                                                                                                                                        Community Advocacy Alliance.