‘Undermine our road safety’: promised rewards for ‘safe’ NSW drivers criticised by experts

Labor and the Coalition promise to ease penalties for ‘low-level’ offences if they win the state election

Election promises by the New South Wales government and the Labor opposition to reward “safe” drivers have been met with scepticism by industry experts, with one accusing both sides of buying votes and failing to advance road safety.

The Coalition on Wednesday promised that drivers with a three-year clean driving record would be able to avoid fines for low-level offending, including low-range speeding, disobeying some signs and driving in a bus lane, if re-elected.

The plan would see motorists eligible for a one-off saving, while still receiving a demerit point.

It was announced on the back of the opposition’s pledge to see those with low-level infringements permitted to have a demerit point removed from their licence after 12 months of good driving.

Labor’s plan was instantly slammed by the treasurer, Matt Kean, and the metropolitan roads minister, Natalie Ward, who said two-thirds of fatal crashes in the past five years had involved drivers traveling less than 10km/h over the limit.

“There’s no such thing as low-level safe speeding,” Ward said on Tuesday.

Announcing the Coalition’s plan to allow some drivers to avoid fines, Ward on Wednesday said: “If you have a clear record for three years and you have a minor infringement, then we will allow you to apply to waive that fine.”

The policies were criticised by Prof Rebecca Ivers, from the University of NSW’s school of population health, who said both party’s promises were “ridiculous”.

“They’re clearly trying to buy votes with things that are going to fundamentally undermine our road safety,” Ivers said.

“What they ought to be doing is running more campaigns about why demerit points are effective and do more campaigning about around safety and putting in place safe infrastructure, forcing people to drive more safely.”

She refuted claims the measures would reward good drivers, arguing the demerit system was already based on the presumption that driving was a privilege and that was the reward for staying safe behind the wheel.

In NSW, drivers with a clear record for five years are offered half-price licence renewal and insurance premiums are lower.

The Australasian College of Road Safety’s NSW chapter deputy chair, Mick Timms, said he was supportive of the “evidence-based” demerit and fines regimes – but did not know if these new policies would make anyone safer.

He was concerned about the use of phrases like “low-level offence” to describe speeding, and urged politicians to be mindful when linking it to rewards for good drivers.

“Speed is something that needs to be taken seriously and certainly we’ve seen over the last few years evidence of a culture of speeding,” Timms said.

But University of Sydney transport management professor Stephen Greaves supported the thinking behind Labor’s policy, which he said provided drivers with an incentive to drive better into the future.

“I like the idea of reversing the carrot and stick,” he said.

“If you get pinged for something, and then you ‘behave’ for a year … you get reimbursed a licence demerit point. That’s a good policy.”

He said the Coalition scheme that would save drivers money was effectively “sanctioning illicit behaviour”.

“It is a disaster waiting to happen,” he said.

The NSW Greens’ transport spokesperson, Abigail Boyd, said fines should be increased for wealthy residents to serve as a genuine deterrent.

“For fines to deter dangerous driving, instead of merely punishing people, we should be increasing fines for the wealthy and reducing fines for those on low incomes,” she said.

“These parties are not serious about either road safety or income inequality.”


Tamsin Rose

The GuardianTramp

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