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Canberra Today 8°/12° | Wednesday, October 20, 2021 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Two bills battle to fine negligent drivers

A SECOND bill proposing amendments to Canberra’s road transport legislation has been tabled in the ACT Legislative Assembly today (August 5). 

Transport Minister Chris Steel tabled the bill, about a month after Greens MLA Jo Clay tabled a similar amendment bill on the topic.

Mr Steel’s bill introduces new legislation to strengthen penalties for road users who inflict harm on other road users such as cyclists and pedestrians.

His proposed amendments include:

  • Introducing a new negligent driving offence for conduct that occasions actual bodily harm;
  • Increasing the infringement notice penalty for negligent driving that does not occasion death, grievous bodily harm or actual bodily harm;
  • Increasing the minimum automatic licence disqualification periods for culpable driving, negligent driving that occasions death and negligent driving that occasions grievous bodily harm; and 
  • Introducing two new strict liability offences to address unsafe behaviours on transport modes other than motor vehicles.

The push to change the legislation started after a video went viral late last year of a cyclist being knocked off a bike by a trailer, which led to Pedal Power ACT “discovering a major issue with the law”.

The incident eventually saw the driver lose a small number of demerit points and fined $393 for negligent driving, however, the charge was in response to the driver travelling over an island, and not in response to it endangering the bike rider, according to a story published in “CityNews” in May.

Since this discovery, Pedal Power ACT has been calling for urgent changes to the current road transport legislation to better reflect the seriousness of endangering cyclists, pedestrians and motorcyclists through negligent driving.

Pedal Power CEO Ian Ross… “We’ve had people die on our roads in Canberra, we have not seen a lot of prosecutions for dangerous driving for those people.” Photo: Danielle Nohra.

Its CEO Ian Ross welcomed Mr Steel’s bill, however, cautioned it must be enacted alongside amendments tabled by Greens MLA Jo Clay in June in order to provide comprehensive improvement in protections for Canberrans on our paths and roads.

Ms Clay’s bill would amend the Road Transport (Safety and Traffic Management) Act 1999 to add an offence of “Negligent driving – harm to vulnerable road users” — such as pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists — and quadruple the maximum penalty to 50 penalty units, or a maximum fine of $1600.

It would also equip police to impose high and immediate penalties.

Mr Steel’s bill will provide stronger penalties for culpable driving, negligent driving that causes harm, unsafe behaviour of mobility devices, and negligent driving that does not cause injury.

Mr Ross said this amendment would work well if enacted alongside the amendment tabled by Ms Clay, which will also provide police with the capacity to provide fines for negligent driving that harms vulnerable road users.

The Australian Federal Police Association president, Alex Caruana, similarly welcomed the introduction of improved road transport offences, but cautioned against relying solely on a traffic offence, which can only be resolved following a court process, instead of equipping police to issue an infringement notice.

“Research shows that the swiftness and severity of punishment, and the perceived ability to avoid punishment, are critical factors in modifying driver behaviour,” Mr Caruana said.

“Except in the most serious cases, infringement notices, when appropriate penalties are applied, remain the best option for police, for victims and for offenders.

“We would like to see both the Steel Bill and the Clay Bill enacted together. Together, they will provide ACT Policing with an increased capacity to address unsafe behaviour on our roads”.

He said that the Canberra community was shocked recently when three members of ACT Policing were driven into by a motor vehicle driver while conducting their lawful duties during a traffic stop. “While these police officers were only doing their job, they were also unequivocally vulnerable road users at the time of the incident.

“The AFPA believes that more can be done in the legislative space to improve the safety of all vulnerable road users as a distinctly at-risk group,” he said.

Mr Caruana said the overwhelming majority of public submissions in response to Jo Clay’s bill supported the establishment offences which can be resolved via infringement notice with appropriate penalties.

Cyclists want gap closed between crime and fine

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