Keeping your licence on Australian roads is a matter of luck

Man driving a car at speed

Having a licence in Australia is not a right, nor is it any longer a privilege, it is simply and sadly a matter of luck.

If you drive like the sort of person the rest of us would like to be permitted to beat with a stick – that is, 10-20km/h under the limit, all the time, everywhere – then your licence is in no danger. If, however, you drive like a normal person, you’re basically hanging on to that precious piece of plastic by a thread, particularly if you live in Victoria, where logic dictates the zero-tolerance, multi-camera, point-to-point bastardry, revenue-raising approach is going to get you eventually.

Even if you’re wise enough not to live there, however, the odds are eventually going to catch up with you. Let’s take me as a slightly abnormal example.

I drive a lot of kilometres in quite a few different cars, many of which are the kinds of vehicles that would tempt even the most temperate man to sin against the laws of speeding. I’ll even admit, just between us, that I have exceeded the limits a few times and yet, until late last year, I’d gone very nearly 10 years without a fine.

I know this because, when I decided to challenge a particularly cruel fine, my solicitor asked me to procure my driving record. While the early, motorcycle-riding, pre-demerits era looked like I was a Hell’s Angel, recent years suggested I was the Reverend Corby.

But on a long, straight, empty backroad in Western Australia over Christmas, a highway patrolman who’d watched too many Dukes of Hazzard episodes pulled a handbrake rally turn to chase after me for doing… 105km/h.

Judges -GavelAs I tried to explain, the head-up display on the Holden Calais I was driving told me I was in a 100km/h zone, but he informed me, flecks of outraged spittle flying through his standard-issue moustache, it was actually a 90 zone. It used to be a 110 zone, he further explained, but there’d been too many accidents.

The officer was befuddled by my explanations of what a head-up display – or sat-nav, or indeed a car – was. He just kept shaking his head cartoon-like at such high speeds as I tried, in the smallest words possible, to point out that I hadn’t possessed the necessary mens rea (intention or knowledge of wrongdoing) to commit a crime.

His only response was, “I think my machine’s more accurate than yours” and then “that’s going to cost you four points”, which seemed to make him unaccountably happy. He wasn’t good at math, either, because it was actually six points, and so now my licence – so carefully, luckily, flukily held in bright gold status all these years – may lose its sheen.

Just a week earlier I had been driving a Porsche 911 GT3 RS at speeds ever so slightly faster than 105km/h, yet not a point did it cost me. Not because I was careful, or well trained, or employing a bunch of people to sweep the road for me. No, it was simply because I was lucky. And in this country that run of luck is all that stands between you and long periods of public transport.

I might just play blackjack instead.

Long arm of the law

Being an obstreperous type, I was determined to take my WA fine to court, and had hoped to be able to make merely a written representation to the magistrate. No dice.

You want to challenge a fine in the West but you live in the Hated East? You’ve got to get on a plane to Perth. Or drive over, very slowly.

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  • @Andrewbris Which seems weird when in criminal cases any mention of ANY past crimes results in a mis-trial.
  • I'd gone nearly 20 years without a fine, don't ask me how. I've had 2 this year, both NSW Highway patrol. Both on our safest roads, multi lane motorways. There seems to be a big step up in enforcement on motorways lately. I guess that's where most accidents are now happening due to a little over the limit?
  • So mr Corby mist seeing the 90 km/h posted sign? Did he go back to check the road had a visible 90 km/h sign posted? Lesson here is that while gps maps are a good indicator of speed limits they are not always true to actual posted speed limits. Bagging out the policeman is no excuse for not seeing the posted speed limit sign.
  • And when you go to court they make you explain every single fine you've had in the past in detail,first,(if you can remember that fine from 20 years ago) so that by the time you get to argue the infringement you look like a jerk and realise it would have been better to just pay the fine as they now think you've been a Peter Brock all your life !
  • Now we have 8 and 9 speed transmission, the silent killer, at 100 or 130 it's all very similar and silent. It's stressful looking at your speedo constantly. Electric cars will be big money earners, silent and fast.
  • WA, just get jammers
  • People who have driven in Europe or USA say that Australian speed (and other) monitoring is unreal. The problem occurred here with all Govt Departments when the Politicians (and Treasury?) told them they had to pay their way - hence the Police went looking for ways to get an income stream. Aha - the motorist. Make up fake stories about "speed kills". End of story. The trouble is, cameras on dead straight roads just clog up traffic with a fray of brake lights, taking up to 5km for the traffic to flow freely again. And the real problem speeders - who wrap their ute around a tree at 3:00am after a night at the club - don't generally get picked up in the speed cameras. And even if they did - a photo is not going to stop the tree incident. It is very dependent on the car. My last 2 cars were Manual Diesels - cruise control held the speed well up and down (most) hills. My dad's automatic Camry, no way - it runs away down the slightest slope, and you have to watch the speedo continually. My latest car, an automatic hybrid - same thing. I'm spending MUCH more time watching the speedo, as it'll creep over the speed limit so easily. I haven't had a fine for 45 yrs, but now that I've got an automatic car, I'm not so confident it won't happen again. I'd get another diesel except they've just about disappeared with proper manuals - VW only sells them with a pretend automatic, Ford dropped diesel after only offering them with a Powershift junk box of gears, Peugeot will only sell them with automatic, Mazda has manual Maz3, but I've heard horror stories about their DPF (particulate filters) costing a fortune to service.
  • It has gotten to a point now where we have created a nation of speedo watching distracted drivers - all the campaigns carry on about distractions but it is constantly watching your speedo or getting pissed off by someone driving 20k under that causes accidents!
  • Tell me about it. I've lost half my licence in the last 3 years 1 point at a time for preposterous violations (highest was 5kph over). Prior to tfhat, I'd run up 6 points in 35 years....and I've never had an at fault accident in that time either, so I'm hardly a reckless driver. And yes....I live in road revenue addicted Victoria. Surprised?
  • WELL??? What happened Mr. Corby??? Where's the rest of the story? Or was that it? I'm not 'that' different to the next guy' but this story looks incomplete! What happened - did you go to court? Did you fly or drive? Did you get your fine reversed? Please don't just give us half a story Steve! The suspense is killing us!!