24 January 2022

Calls for income-based approach to fines as inquiry recommends waivers for vulnerable motorists

| Lottie Twyford
Join the conversation
Speed camera

An inquiry into the 40 km/h zones in Civic has recommended waivers for some fines issued in July last year. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

An inquiry into the thousands of fines issued after speed limits in parts of the city centre were reduced last year has recommended some should be waived as they may result in financial hardship.

But for the ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS), this is only a start.

The organisation has been calling on the government to introduce an income-based approach to all government fines, fees and charges.

According to ACTCOSS CEO Dr Emma Campbell, fines issued at flat rates don’t have the same effect on high-income earners as they do on low-income earners, with the latter being “disproportionately and unfairly impacted”.

Around 40,000 people in the ACT live in low-income households.

“People on low incomes and income support have told us that they already have to compromise on food, gas and electricity, clothing and education expenses and make tough choices between basics such as a trip to the dentist or keeping the car on the road,” Dr Campbell said.

“A fine can be the final straw for some families and individuals, creating a financial situation that spirals into crisis or even puts them at risk of contact with the criminal justice system.”

READ ALSO No excuses for drivers flouting city slowdown

Canberrans are able to place fines on a payment plan so they can be paid off in instalments or undertake community service in their place in other instances.

But Dr Campbell is worried the impacts of the pandemic have not been felt evenly across the ACT, and it’s people who are already disadvantaged that have borne the economic brunt of COVID-19.

She said it’s high time the government takes the opportunity to explore a fine system based on income.

The ACT Legislative Assembly’s Planning, Transport and City Services Committee – which released its report on Friday – recommended waivers should be considered only in instances where fines had resulted in financial hardship.

It only asked the government to consider waiving fines and demerit points for the month of July last year.

The committee also recommended additional warning systems for similar speed changes in the future, and that the government should consider a permanent waiver system for vulnerable road users – either due to financial hardship or mental health.

However, it recommended the government continue implementing plans to lower the speed limit in other parts of the city.

READ ALSO Been pinged on Northbourne Avenue? Here’s what you can do about it

A new 40 km/h zone was introduced in some areas of the city such as Northbourne Avenue, London Circuit and Barry Drive in March last year, although drivers were allowed a grace period until July.

More than 20,000 drivers were caught speeding in a two-week trial period in June before fines started being issued, and on the first day of enforcement, more than 1200 drivers were caught speeding.

But motorists who were caught speeding during the grace period were not issued with a warning letter, which prompted some criticism from the NRMA, as well as the Canberra Liberals at the time.

Last year, the ACT Opposition called on the government to drop all fines issued by the new cameras in July after Opposition spokesperson for transport Mark Parton alleged a lack of messaging ahead of the speed change had resulted in a “perverse outcome“.

Mr Parton said the amount of revenue raised by the speed cameras was proof that the information campaign intended to alert motorists of the change had failed.

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments

Another solution would be to enforce pedestrian laws (if any in the ACT). Working in Civic, each day I witness jay-walking, crossing when the pedestrian signal is red, and pedestrians leaping out to cross between vehicles just because they are going slower. On the other hand I note that the ACT Government has not released any stats of vehicle/pedestrian fatalities/injuries to support the lowering of the speed limit in this section of the city.

The idea of differing fines for the same traffic offence is just as stupid as introducing differing prison sentences for those judged more resilient to incarceration, or differing degrees of torture for those with different pain thresholds. Penalities are, for good reason, determined by the offence, not capacity to pay.

It’s essentially equivalent to an order to do a few hours of community service, which would be easier, more effective on high income offenders and have the intended impact on low income and financially vulnerable people of not taking money out of their pockets.

Vinson1Bernie10:15 pm 27 Jan 22

This is like what is happening in some US cities at the moment where DA’s arent prosecuting minor crimes and crime rates are skyrocketing. By all means allow time to pay and community service but lessening the value of the crime or giving grace periods mean some will go crazy.and the roads will be less safe esp after all the work we have done to get the road toll down considerably (I ‘ m talking over a long period Australia-wide)

If something like this is brought in, the outcome is predictable.

There will be less incentive for those on lower income to follow the laws.

The real rich will often be immune because they can afford the good accountants and play clever games with their incomes. They will have even less incentive than they currently do to follow the laws.

The “well to do on paper” people who have a good income but where most of it is eaten up by their mortgages and car loans and kids activities etc will be the ones paying the increases.

It is just another scheme to hit the middle class.

Almost 80% of last years speed fines were for speeds of less than 10km/h.
Speed cameras are not entirely about safety and the proceeds from fines does not go entirely towards road safety.
As they deploy more cameras and vans it is clear to see this is an income stream.
Per vehicle driven hour our road behaviour has never been safer before, but they won’t tell you this no one likes per capita when it shows we are already safer.

Is the income based ‘fine’ on gross or net income? My Accountant needs to know!

The message is clear: “speed kills” only if you have a middle to upper income – it’s totally safe for low-income earners to drive as fast as they want.

It has been suggested to me that a significant number of these fines have been incurred by vehicles on company registrations. Apparently, the company just pays 5 times the monetary penalty by not nominating the actual driver and just loads up its charges to recoup the outlay. If this is correct, the effectiveness of camera fines as a deterrent has to questioned.

Perhaps another option would be the fines increasing as you get more of them within a 12 month period.

So your first speeding fine is $X.

If you get a second one within 12 months it would be an extra 50%

Then double $X for the third one


Or some other multiplier.

Doubling the fine for each offence would probably get the message across but might be a bit harsh.

Has any research been done on the demographics of the people getting these fines?

Especially the frequent offenders.

Does the data support the hypothesis that higher income drivers are accruing more fines because the fines are less significant to them?

It would also be interesting to see the breakdown by other factors such as vehicle type or occupation.

no, no, no.

we cannot have a system where penalties are based on financial circumstances. look at Kerry Packer’s performance at Estimates to see why.

it’s very simple – don’t speed and you won’t get a fine.

whether we agree with the speed limit in that location or not, the fact is that it is there and it’s not hard to keep under it.

it’s pretty sad that society has got to the point where it is someone else’s fault and personal responsiblity doesn’t matter anymore.

Penalising people differently based on their ability to either do well for themselves or not is a socialist ideology that I don’t subscribe to. The law has to apply equally to all – that’s fair. Penalising “poorer” people less, is an incentive for them, and a serious grievance to others – that’s how you divide communities.
The actual problem here is that 40kmh limits along Northbourne Ave is not supported by any scientific evidence. If the Government is concerned about motorists hitting pedestrians who are crossing illegally, perhaps they should turn their attention to the pedestrians instead.

“Penalising “poorer” [sic] people less, is an incentive for them, and a serious grievance to others”
So sorry to hear that “poorer” people are pissing you off by being actually poorer.

It appears to follow from your argument that it might be better to fine them even more than richer people to really show them what you mean by a disincentive to misbehave.

People forget that driving is a privilege not a right. Demerit points are the mechanism to remove people’s rights to drive, fines are just another attempted deterrent. Fines should not be reduced for anyone’s personal circumstances – the system cannot take this adequately into account as income does not equal disposable income, although ultra high income earners may be different.

Everyone’s responsibilities on the roads are the same, get fined the same. It’s really quite easy to avoid being fined, obey the road rules.

If you can’t afford the fine, don’t do the crime. If you get that many fines that you can’t afford, you shouldn’t be driving at all. Continue to drive with no licence, you should go to jail and pay for that too.

All this highlights is why financial penalties should not be used in this area at all.

The licence point system should be overhauled and that’s where the penalties should lie.

Of course that would mean the government weaning itself off the fine revenue and we all know how likely that is.

Nailed it Chewy. Go hard on repeat offenders NOT on one off drivers going 55 through a Civic main road, that looks exactly the same as the other 60-80kmh roads in the area.

Difficult question.

I’ve often thought that fines are inequitable with those on higher incomes not adversely impacted.

Yet the concept of income based fines “to protect the vulnerable in society” has issues too.

As it is now, we have people driving vehicles whilst unlicensed and unregistered. (I am assuming that driving unlicensed comes down to disqualification and unregistered comes down to having insufficient money).

Income based fines won’t stop an unlicensed person from driving or someone driving an unregistered car. In fact, income based fines reduces the consequences, if caught.

We still need fines, as a deterrent but maybe it would be fairer to have a basic fine, plus a variable component. Possibly also increase demerit points, because that hurts everyone equally, except those who drives unlicensed and unregistered. For them; minimum JAIL sentence.

I definitely see a role for the seizing of cars and prison time for repeat offenders as well.

While the idea seems sound, income is not an accurate measure of ability to pay things like fines.

My daughter’s boyfriend (in his 30s) is unemployed and has far more disposable income than I do. He doesn’t have a mortgage (or rent as he lives with his mother in her government housing), car loans etc and has very minimal living costs and is not supporting his child from his ex-wife.

He also doesn’t pay for car rego or insurance because he drives unregistered cars while unlicensed.

But then again, he doesn’t pay his speeding or parking fines anyway. What are they going to do? Take away the license he doesn’t have?

need to start doing what they do in Victoria. take the car away from them. if they then drive someone elses car then that car also goes for a month. he wont be thinking its so cool when he injures someone or worse kills them.

I’d like to see more drivers have their car impounded for a few weeks. I reckon that would send a good message to some drivers.

It destroys my faith in the system when I know he has been pulled over several times while driving unlicensed and just allowed to keep driving on his journey.

And yes, one day he will be involved in yet another accident and some innocent person will be left to deal with being hit by an unlicensed driver.

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.