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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