May 3, 2012

When a police fine for a speeding charge is paid or a conviction is recorded in Court, then demerit points are incurred* unless the Court is satisfied that the offence was ‘trifling’ or any other proper cause exists to reduce the number of demerit points. The Supreme Court recently considered the various grounds upon which a person charged with speeding might not incur demerit points.

In the case before the Court, the driver pleading guilty to a speeding charge for which the Magistrate imposed a conviction and fine. He had been detected speeding at 122 kph in the 110 kph limit. At the time, the traffic was light and the road was in good condition, visibility was good and no other road users were endangered by the driving. He had only exceeded the limit over a short distance after having travelled over a rise in the road, and as soon as he realised he reduced his speed.

Reducing Demerit Points

The consequences of loss of licence were significant. Not only was his driver’s licence critical to his employment, but he lived in country town and had a child who suffered from a medical condition which meant he had to make regular trips to the city for specialist appointments.

Under section 16 of the Criminal Law (Sentencing) Act where a court finds a person guilty of an offence, the penalty may be imposed without recording a conviction if the defendant is unlikely to commit the offence again and having regard to factors such as the person’s age, character, history or physical or mental condition, whether the offence was trifling or for other extenuating circumstance good reasons exists to do so. In that event, no demerit points are incurred.

Notably, the Supreme Court commented that the mere fact that the driver had previous speeding charges did not mean that section 16 could not be used. Nevertheless, in this case the Court concluded that having regard to all the circumstances it was not appropriate to find that he was unlikely to commit a speeding offence again, therefore a conviction was imposed.

The Court then considered whether the number of demerit points could be reduced on the basis that the offence was trifling. It was acknowledged that it was not a serious offence, but the Court concluded that the driver was sufficiently in excess of the limit so as not to render the offence trifling. Finally, consideration was given as to whether there was some other ‘proper cause’ to reduce the number of demerit points for speeding. It was noted that this requires a consideration of the circumstances of the offence itself, and not the personal circumstances of the driver, although there have been occasions when the consequences for the driver have been taken into account. In this case, there was no emergency or other factor that justified the speed so as being confronted by something unexpected that required a quick reaction. It was just an ordinary case of speeding that is committed fairly often.

With regard to the driver’s personal circumstances, the Court recognised that the loss of licence for speeding will cause hardship, but in this case the hardship wasn’t so unusual as to warrant treating it as different. While the circumstances relating to the child were unusual, this was not something that arose after the event.

Despite that act that the driver in this case was not successful, it is significant, that the Supreme Court confirmed that section 16 of the Criminal Law (Sentencing) Act can be utilised even for a speeding charge. Also, it is still open for a person to apply for a reduction in demerit points on the basis that there is ‘proper cause’ based on their personal circumstances. Anyone who has received an on the spot fine for speeding or any other traffic offence and is concerned about the consequences of incurring demerit points should contact a specialist traffic lawyer in Adelaide at Websters Lawyers before paying the fine.

* It is a common misconception that you start with 12 points and then lose them, however you actually start with no points and incur them.

Miles v Police [2012] SASC 69