Slapped with a traffic fine? Here's what you can do about it

Many of us have received that unwelcome letter in the mail advising we are about to be out of pocket hundreds of dollars, and possibly cop demerit points due to bad behaviour on the road.

Whether you were caught speeding, driving through a red light camera or with your hands on a mobile phone, there are ways in which drivers can contest the punishment.

Even if you did break the rules, there’s still a chance you could be let off or at the least significantly drop the cost of the fine.

According to Revenue NSW, there have been more than 5400 seatbelt offences in the state so far this year, along with more than 8000 mobile phone rules broken, more than 148,000 caught by a speeding camera and 50,000 detected by a red-light camera.

The most common offence that has seen people slapped with fines is parking, with more than 430,000 copping fines from councils in NSW this year alone.

According to the NSW Department of Communities and Justice, the most common traffic offences include speeding, using a mobile phone, not wearing a seat belt, not indicating when turning a corner, stopping within 10 metres of an intersection, driving an unregistered car and driving through a red light.

Pictured is a parking fine issued by Orange council over a car parked on a nature strip.
People can seek advice from lawyers if they want to contest a fine. Source: Supplied

When can I contest a fine?

According to Rachael Shaw, partner at Shaw & Henderson legal firm, Aussies have about 28 days to appeal a fine from the day it is issued.

Parking and red light camera fines are the most commonly contested penalties, with speeding infringements a bit harder to challenge.

“People generally have 28 days and that’s actually to instigate something. It doesn’t necessarily have to be resolved in 28 days,” Ms Shaw told Yahoo News Australia.

“An appeal and review will usually delay the process so will put a pause on the requirement to pay.”

One of the biggest mistakes people are making, according to Ms Shaw, is paying part of the fine before deciding they want to contest it.

“Once people pay a fine or partly pay a fine or enter a payment plan, it’s almost impossible to undo that,” she said.

“Often people pay a fine and not appreciate it attracts demerit points, and once they realise they have this many points before their licence is disqualified it is too late to go back and look at that fine again.”

How do I contest a traffic fine?

“Appealing fines is increasing and it’s one of those things once somebody hears a story of somebody being successful – it definitely has created a lot more people being prepared to make some enquiries about it,” Ms Shaw said.

“There’s a lot of publicity surrounding errors that have been made by governments and in police equipment and we are more litigious as a society.”

Pictured is a red light camera.
People caught out by red light cameras are urged to ask for photographic evidence. Source: Getty

Ms Shaw said we are more willing to challenge fines given the increased cost of penalties. Parking infringements especially used to be a lot cheaper.

Across Australia offenders have 28 days to appeal a traffic infringement by getting in contact with the authority who issued the fine.

If you are fined by a private car park operator, consumer advocacy group Choice says people should appeal the fine through the consumer protection agency in your state, whether that be NSW Fair Trading, Victoria Consumer Affairs, Queensland Office of Fair Trading, SA Consumer and Business Services, WA Consumer Protection, Access Canberra, Tasmania Consumer Affairs and Fair Trading or NT Consumer Affairs.

Earlier this month it was announced a popular app was launching in Australia to help Aussies get out of paying parking tickets.

The DoNotPay app was designed by Joshua Browder after he accrued a pile of parking tickets he was unable to pay.

What happens if I take my fine to court?

“There are a lot of legal services that will provide some initial phone advice or initial guidance,” Ms Shaw said.

“Some people will call a lawyer at least to suss out what’s involved, and the likelihood of success and cost involved if they went down the lawyer route.

“A rising number of people are turning to lawyers to assist with fines.

“If you are successful in defending your fine or proving the fine shouldn’t have been issued, your legal costs can be reimbursed to you,” Ms Shaw said.

“If lawyers think the case has merit and there’s a good chance they’ll win, some are prepared to say no win, no fee.

“Similarly if you challenge your fine and went to court, and the authority made an assessment the fine was inappropriately issued and withdrawn, the court can make an order that the cost you’ve incurred be repaid.”

According to Revenue NSW, before you can challenge an overdue fine in court, offenders have to prove they could not deal with the penalty by the fine due date.

If you do want to take your fine to court, people will have to pay the cost set by their lawyer if they wish to have representation as well as a court filing fee.

Tayla Regan, managing lawyer at Criminal Defence Lawyers Australia, told Yahoo News Australia people in NSW could elect to go to court at no charge.

However, the court may impose a fee once the case is over.

“The court will send you an $85 court cost if you plead guilty,” Ms Regan said.

“If they do not plead guilty then those fees won’t apply. Usually people who are looking for a bit of leniency to get the fine to go away will plead guilty, but they will still have to pay the $85 court cost.”

The fees don’t apply to people who plead not guilty.

What do I do if I’ve been fined by mistake?

“Traffic or red light fines are the big ones and immediately people can request a copy of a photograph to see whether it shows they entered an intersection on a red light and whether its clear from the photo its their car,” Ms Shaw said.

“If the number plate is obscured or not clear then that would be a basis to say it’s not evidence it’s definitely my car.

“It’s a very common way people are able to dispute red light fines, to request actual photo to show whether it can be proved.”

Pictured is a confusing parking sign.
Those fined for parking are urged to check the street signs. Source: Getty

Ms Shaw said it was similar when it came to parking fines and it was important for offenders to really look at the particular signage in the spot they were parked to determine if it was confusing or not.

If a person is caught speeding in a road work zone, people may also be able to claim the new speed limit was not displayed clearly.

There’s also a chance people caught with their mobile phone while driving may have grounds to contest their fine.

“If someone picked up their mobile phone while driving and perhaps they reached for their phone thinking it was their drink bottle and held it for one second before putting it down but were caught, they may be able to argue it was such a minor breach – unintentionally touching their phone for a millisecond,” she said.

“A magistrate might be persuaded while a person was guilty of infringement, the consequences could be significantly reduced due to its trivial nature.”

How successful are people who contest fines?

Ms Shaw said people are probably more successful when contested fines than we realise. She was also surprised by how many people took their matters to court and represented themselves.

“It’s incredibly brave, usually it is people who are confident in public speaking and don’t let the emotions get the better of them,” she said.

“But most people just can’t afford the time away from work or the stress and anxiety involved.”

Pictured is a sign warning drivers of a speed camera ahead.
Speeding fines can be a bit harder to contest, according to Rachael Shaw. Source: Getty

Ms Shaw said the majority of people fined likely engaged a lawyer, and while they may not end up taking the matter to court, they at least got some advice.

“If people challenge it, obviously there’s something there, and if they take that first step more people than not are being successful,” she said.

“Success doesn’t necessarily mean the fine goes away, but it could lead to a significant reduction in the fine or demerits attached to it.”

According to consumer advocacy group Choice, 44,000 parking fines were waived in Melbourne over a three-year period.

Data obtained by the Daily Telegraph from the Office of State Debt Recovery in 2011 revealed in just four months 18,275 were successful in appealing a fine.

What happens if I don’t pay a fine?

According to Australian Securities and Investments Commission, there are serious consequences if people don’t pay their fines.

LawAccess NSW says if people fail to pay a fine by the due date, offenders will cop an overdue fine, causing the overall cost to increase.

It costs offenders an extra $65 in NSW or $25 if you are under 25.

Your driver’s licence or car registration could be suspended, you could be ordered to appear in court, your name could be published on a website determined by the Fines Enforcement and Recovery Officer or your possessions could be taken and sold.

ASIC says people also risk having some of their wages taken, or a charge registered over your land.

The commission advises people to check fine letters and notices to work out which debt recovery agency they needed to contact about their fine, whether it be Revenue NSW, Fines Recovery Unit, State Penalties Enforcement Registry, Fines Enforcement and Recovery Unit, Monetary Penalties Enforcement Service, Victorian State Government - Fines and Attorney General’s Department.

Ms Shaw said her number one advice would be before paying a fine it to make some enquiries as to what the consequences could be.

“The number one problem people on P-plates or Learners don’t appreciate is often what the consequences are for them.”

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