Life In The Fast Lane
The statistics tell a sobering story. In our state alone, last year there were 246 road deaths (almost five every week), men are almost three times more likely to die in a road crash than women, and road fatalities are the leading cause of death after self-half harm for men aged 15 to 24.
They say cars and, well just about anything, don’t mix and it seems particularly true if you’re a young man living in Queensland.
Which is why our law makers and enforcers spend a great deal of time and effort in trying to keep those numbers as low as possible. In fact, according to figures released by the federal government the annual economic cost of road crashes in Australia is estimated at $27 billion per annum (around the same as the national defence budget), with devastating social impacts to boot.
The most common causes of road fatalities and car accidents occasioning serious harm are fatigue, speed, distraction (such as mobile phones), and alcohol or drugs.
As a criminal lawyer I see far too many cases of people fronting court on charges created by one (or more) of the grounds above, but what most people don’t realise is different charges can have varying impacts on their day-to-day lives and livelihood.
Traffic offences are a complex area of law and penalties can range from receiving a fine and losing points, a probation order or even going to jail.
It all depends on the type of offence, the circumstances, and your traffic history, and apart from the obvious financial costs a stint behind bars will significantly impact on a number of issues such as employment or overseas travel, and in some cases loss of a job.
Here’s a rundown of the most common offenses and the potential outcomes if you’re charged.
Unlicensed and disqualified driving
Unlicensed driving can carry a fine and even imprisonment, depending on the circumstances if you’re caught driving and have never held a license, your license is expired, or you don’t hold the correct license. These cases are considered ‘simple offences’ and are heard in the Magistrates Court.
Of these, driving while disqualified is another matter altogether, and one of the most common reasons why a person can be sent to prison in Queensland.
It’s a much more serious offence and occurs when a person is caught driving while disqualified through being previously convicted of a serious traffic matter.
It carries a maximum penalty of $7,068 or 18 months’ imprisonment, as well as a mandatory disqualification from driving for two to five years. The reason courts treat it so seriously is that the act of driving whilst disqualified involves an element of contempt of the previous court’s order.
Drink and drug driving
If you want a sign of the times, then look no further than the increase in number of roadside drug tests.
Queensland Police will aim to perform 75,000 tests in the next 12 months, up more than 20 per cent from last year, and add to this the number of random breath tests scheduled and chances are if you drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, you’ll probably get caught.
If you are you will have to go to court and a magistrate will decide the length of your licence disqualification and whether you will be fined, put to a community-based order, or sentenced to a term of imprisonment.
Penalties for the both types of driving under the influence offences include a minimum six months license disqualification, and nine months in the slammer.
Another sign of the times, in Queensland more than 16,000 drivers were issued fines for using mobile phones while behind the wheel in one year, that’s almost 44 a day.
According to the Department of Transport and Main Roads and Queensland Police, an alarming three-quarters of road users freely admit to using their phone illegally, and distraction-related road deaths are the fastest-growing category of the ”fatal five” fatalities.
The bottom line is driving while using a mobile phone held in your hand is illegal.
Some people think it’s OK if you're stopped in traffic, but it’s not. This means you can't hold the phone next to or near your ear with your hand, write, send or read a text message, turn your phone on or off, or operate any other function on your phone.
You can be fined $391 and have three demerit points issued, but moves are afoot to have this increased.
Update: In February 2020, this penalty was increased to a $1000 fine and four demerit points.
Speeding is the most common traffic-related offense in the state and fatalities and hospitalised casualties caused by it have an estimated cost of $3.2 billion each year.
While you technically can’t go to jail for a speeding offense (the maximum penalty is eight points and six-month suspension, and/or a $1,218 fine), the accumulation of fines can lead to the disqualification of your license.
The penalty amount issued if the car is registered in a company name is five times the amount for an individual because demerit points are not applied to businesses.
Dangerous and careless driving
The penalties for both dangerous and careless driving show them to be the most serious of the driving offences.
Dangerous driving is a criminal offence in Queensland, not just a traffic offence, and now carries penalties of up to 14 years imprisonment and a minimum disqualification of your driver’s licence of 6 months.
Essentially dangerous driving criminalises driving which may result in serious injury or death to another person or passenger, hence the gravity of the charge and why it’s dealt with under the Queensland Criminal Code Act 1899 (QLD). Unlike most other driving offences, if you are convicted of this offence, you will have a conviction for a crime recorded against your name.
There is a lesser charge of careless driving. This offending typically lacks the significant seriousness or flagrancy of disregard for public safety found in Dangerous driving. But it still carries potential imprisonment of 2 years and licence disqualification of a least 6 months.
Motorcycle road rules
As an avid superbike racer I often think two wheels are better than four, but motorcycle riders (including moped and motortrike riders) must follow the same road rules as other vehicles on Queensland roads.
Most of the rules that apply to drivers also apply to motorcycle riders, for example, the give way rules, traffic light rules and speed limits, but there are some rules that specifically apply to motorcycle riders, including lane filtering, riding on road shoulders, pillion passengers, and wearing motorcycle helmets.
Other infringements and offenses
Did you know you could be fined over $1,000 for causing an obstruction at a level crossing, or $52 for failing to dip your headlights when travelling behind another vehicle or for an oncoming vehicle?
There are a range of other driving and traffic offenses that carry penalties and fines, and while some are not too serious, cumulative offenses can lead to the loss of your license.
In all cases it’s best to either pay the fine, or have the matter dealt with through a lawyer as quickly as possible to ensure the best possible outcome.
Michael McMillan is a criminal lawyer who's represented hundreds of trials in every jurisdiction in Queensland. His firm, McMillan Criminal Law has offices on the Gold Coast and in Brisbane. For more information call 5574 0422 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.