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Report slams State's high traffic fines

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Interstate comparisons of fines for traffic offences suggest South Australia’s regime is tilted towards revenue raising, a special economic report says.

The Fine State of South Australia examines national and state road fatality and injury figures from 1950 along with major policy changes such as seat belts, breath testing and speed fines.

Prepared by the SA Centre for Economic Studies, it concludes that reduced fatality and injury rates are linked to improvements in vehicle technology, road improvements and specific actions to improve driver capability and behaviour.

While increased enforcement of road rules had contributed to a reduction in fatalities and injuries, ramping up speeding fines to a level higher than other State and territories had shown no separate marked effect.

“Road traffic fines in South Australia appear higher than those in other States. To what extent do they reflect ‘dangerous’ driving? Are South Australian drivers dangerous,” the report asks.

“Road fatalities and serious injury are a complex ‘policy problem’ for government – we do not dispute that – but the reliance on heavy financial penalties in South Australia indicates an overly strong preference for revenue raising in the pursuit of greater road safety.”

The Fine State of South Australia was released yesterday as a special economic briefing focus paper.

It shows the high economic cost of personal tragedy and how it has reduced markedly since it peaked in 1974.

“..the cost of each fatality on South Australian roads in 2012 was $2.83 million, meaning that road fatalities alone in 2012 cost the South Australian economy approximately $265.5 million.

“In contrast at the peak in 1974 (382 fatalities) road fatalities cost over $1 billion (in 2012 dollars).

“These figures provide an indication of the impact that road safety programs and improvement in automotive technologies have had.

“The total cost of motor vehicle accidents is far more than the figures above.

“The cost of road accidents include not only vehicle repair costs but also costs of injury, both permanent and temporary.”

Its examination of the impact of road safety policies shows that governments often ignore the improvement in vehicle technology when assessing if their policies have worked as expected.

“Road safety policies have played an important role in reducing the number of road fatalities in South Australia.

“What is mostly missing from these contributing factors to the reduction in fatalities are improvements in vehicle technology and road improvements and specific actions to improve driver capability and behaviour.

“The South Australian picture of an increase in road fatalities commencing in the 1950s and reaching a peak in 1974-76 is very similar to the national picture with a continuing trend decline right up to the present time.

“Comparing Western Australia and South Australia for example, fatalities whether measured by fatalities per 10,000 vehicles, per 10,000 licenced drivers or per 100,000 population show the same downward trend post 1974-76 (e.g. Victoria peaked at 1,061 in 1970 and declined thereafter).

“What this suggests, for the nation as a whole, is that the principal contributing factors to the trend decline are equally applicable across the States and that they are the result of, inter alia, improved safety features and embodied technology in the automobile, all States introduction of random alcohol and drug testing and improvements in the quality of roads such as road shoulder sealing, the national black spots program, passing lanes on major highways and road safety campaigns.”

“Although the exact timing of their introduction may vary, all States have introduced random breath testing (e.g. Victoria 1976, South Australia 1981), and all have progressively lowered permissible blood alcohol readings, instituted drug testing, ‘booze buses’, hand held laser guns and fixed and mobile cameras.

“All of these policy initiatives have generally been welcomed by the public at large and each has played some role in helping to reduce road fatalities and serious injury.”

The report then examines the public’s resistance to South Australia’s highest-in-the-nation fines regime.

“..there is one sticking point and this is evident in community reaction to the lack of harmonisation across States of the level of fines for the same offence; that the level of fines often do not reflect the potential seriousness of an offence; that inconsistent speed limits create unnecessary confusion and the level of tolerance (or allowance) for above a specific speed limit is ill-defined and/or unstated.

“Motorists with a clean driving record are not rewarded. These and other reasons have cemented in the minds of the general public that particularly mobile speed and fixed cameras are employed as revenue raising devices for the government.”

The high fines, it says, leads to a further complication of licence suspension.

“Resistance to the payment of traffic fines and/or the inability to meet payment is reported to have resulted in 23,000 people having their licence suspended in 2012/1314; fine-related revocations of a licence do not necessarily result in people not driving, but continuing to drive without compulsory third party insurance (which carries its own risk).

“The fine for driving an unregistered vehicle in South Australia at or about the time registration stickers were no longer issued increased from $335 to $1,000 and the fine for driving uninsured increased from $600 to $1,500.

“It is questionable whether government conducted a sufficient information campaign (similar to drink driving) to inform the community of the subtle change in responsibility to ensure a vehicle is registered and the penalties for not doing so.”

In its analysis of the data, the report questions the high fines regime.

“Road traffic fines in South Australia appear higher than those in other States. To what extent do they reflect ‘dangerous’ driving? Are South Australian drivers dangerous?

“Road fatalities and serious injury are a complex ‘policy problem’ for government – we do not dispute that – but the reliance on heavy financial penalties in South Australia indicates an overly strong preference for revenue raising in the pursuit of greater road safety.”

In its concluding remarks, the reports authors point to a small fee charged by the State Government as an example of poor policy.

“We are aware of three Australian States in which drivers are able to access their demerit point history online, contributing to making a driver more aware that their driving behaviour needs to be modified and/or they are at risk of losing their licence.

In South Australia there is a fee of $22 to obtain a copy of your driving history.

“It is not good public policy to impose a financial barrier to access personal information which could readily be made available to all drivers.

“A sophisticated approach to enable costless and easy access to information on driver demerit points should be adopted, the access fee should be dispensed with and much greater information should be publicly available to all drivers on road safety measures.”

The report proposes a national harmonised approach as a means of restoring public perceptions and reinforcing the ultimate goal of road safety.

 

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