Drivers hit with tougher fines, demerits
Drivers hit with tougher fines, demerits

Motorists will soon face tougher penalties for offences such as using mobile phones, running red lights, speeding, tailgating and failing to give way to pedestrians.

Road Safety and Police Minister Liza Harvey says the changes, which include higher fines and some demerit point increases, will target offences linked to serious and fatal crashes and she hopes harsher penalties will stop dangerous behaviour.

The new penalties were based on Road Safety Council recommendations after a review by Adelaide's Centre for Automotive Safety Research and were the first significant changes since 2007, she said.

But the State Government has ignored RSC advice to introduce a demerit-point penalty for speeding by less than 10km/h, which road safety expert Max Cameron said was disappointing.

"Most people don't worry about a fine, especially for low-level speeding, but they do fear losing their licence by accumulating demerit points," Professor Cameron, from the Monash University Accident Research Centre, said. "WA is the only State that doesn't have a demerit point for a low-level offence."

Mrs Harvey said she was not convinced low-level speeding warranted a demerit penalty, despite being one of the most common offences, because it was not a factor in the worst crashes.

"The argument from the community on low-level speeding is that they can have a slight lapse in concentration, they get a slap and they pay attention and drive safely next time," she said.

Using a mobile phone behind the wheel will now cost $400, up from $250, the fine for running a red light will double to $300 and motorcyclists caught without a helmet will be hit with a $550 fine and four demerit points.

The penalty for failing to give way to emergency vehicles will rise from $150 to $400.

The Government wanted to tackle problem issues such as unsafe overtaking, vulnerable road users and distraction, she said.

"Mobile phones are almost like the seatbelt argument of the 1970s, where it took time to convince people a seatbelt could save your life," Mrs Harvey said.

"I don't think people connect that if they are distracted by their mobile phone, they could kill or seriously injure themselves or someone else."

Research showed during two seconds of distraction at 40km/h a car travelled 22m.

At 100km/h it takes two seconds to travel more than 55m.

"If you're approaching a children's crossing and you're checking your mobile phone, that two seconds can be the difference between you knocking over a child or not," Mrs Harvey warned.

She said police had been cracking down on mobile phone use and believed higher penalties would have a positive effect.

Professor Cameron, who has advised the WA Government on speed and drink and drug-driving enforcement, said research showed the threat of enforcement had a bigger effect on driver behaviour than increasing penalties.

"The size of the penalty has very little impact unless people believe the risk of being caught is very high," he said.

Professor Cameron said that in 2003 the number of hours spent on mobile speed camera enforcement in WA was about 36,000 and it was now about 38,000 hours a year, fewer than the growth in the vehicle population.

Covert use of mobile speed cameras and random breath testing in places drivers did not expect helped increase the perception of more enforcement, he said.

The proposed higher fines will bring some of WA's low penalties in line with other States, while most demerit-point penalties are standard nationwide.

But penalties for speeding less than 20km/h over the limit will still be lower than in NSW, Queensland, Victoria and South Australia.

The State Government hopes to have the new penalties in place by the start of the Queen's Birthday long weekend on September 26.

Mrs Harvey made no apologies for increasing fines, saying it was not revenue-raising but a penalty for not obeying the road rules.

"The road rules are there so we have a safe system for everybody to use," she said.

She said it was too difficult to predict how much of a windfall the changes would create for Government coffers because she expected them to have a positive effect on driver behaviour.

But if similar numbers are caught speeding as there were last year, it will increase speed-fine revenue by at least $33 million, while red-light revenue could double to more than $5 million.

The West Australian

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