Authorities in Queensland have come under fire for targeting four-wheel drives and utes with suspension raised beyond the legal limit during Operation Lift in September last year – one month before revised rules were introduced.
Enthusiasts have claimed on social media that some drivers should have their defect notices cleared and the $130 defective vehicle fines refunded, alleging they were issued in error.
The Facebook page for the 4WD Queensland Association claimed the police operation was “intended to defect vehicles which were well outside the (legal height) limits”.
However, the association claims “many four-wheel drive owners ended up with vehicle defect notices, including minor modified vehicles”.
The association said ride height rules have changed frequently in recent years and were open to “interpretation”.
The Facebook page has urged members who may have been issued a ticket or defect notice in error to email their grievance to firstname.lastname@example.org and “ask to have it reviewed for cancellation”.
However, the Queensland Transport authority claims that, to the best of the department’s knowledge, no fines or defects were issued in error.
“In September last year, Transport and Main Roads (TMR) and the Queensland Police Service (QPS) carried out Operation Lift. This was a joint operation for vehicle vehicles with increased heights well above legal limits,” said a statement issued to CarAdvice from Queensland Transport and Main Roads.
Under changes introduced in October 2018 – one month after Operation Lift –the maximum allowable total lift height for older 4WDs (those not equipped with stability control) was relaxed slightly and increased from 125mm to 150mm, bringing Queensland into line with the National Code of Practice.
At the same time, the rules covering modern four-wheel drives and utes (in particular, those equipped with electronic stability control) were only allowed to have suspension lifted by a maximum of 50mm above the unmodified showroom-standard condition, and the height of the tyres can only be lifted by 25mm above the unmodified showroom-standard condition.
Authorities say defected vehicles were deemed illegal at the time – and would have also breached the updated rules.
“Vehicles that attracted traffic infringement notices during Operation Lift (in September 2018) were still illegal after the changes (introduced in October 2018),” according to the statement from Queensland Transport.
“Owners of these vehicles are still subject to enforcement and required to return their vehicles to a safe and legal condition.”
Representatives from Queensland Police and Queensland Transport did not disclose how many fines and/or defect notices were issued for over-height four-wheel drives during Operation Lift, but most defect notices were accompanied by a $130 defective vehicle ticket which also carried one demerit point.
When asked how many fines and/or defect notices may have been issued in error, the statement from Transport and Main Roads said: “We are working with (police) to review any infringement notices drivers believe have been issued in error, but at this stage we are not aware of any instances where this is the case”.
The authority added: “If drivers believe they have been issued an infringement notice in error, there are processes in place to review these infringements by following the instructions on the reverse side of the notice.”
The statement by Queensland Transport added: “We support safe four-wheel-driving and the tourism benefits it delivers, however, road safety and the protection of all road users is our priority.”
Queensland Transport said it “worked with industry to make changes to vehicle lift requirements under the Queensland Code of Practice for Vehicle Modifications and these came into effect in October last year”.
The ride height and tyre size of all vehicles – in particular four-wheel drives – have come into the spotlight since electronic stability control became mandatory on all new vehicles.
The electronics are calibrated to work most effectively when the vehicle has standard suspension and tyres. Changing either of these elements can adversely affect emergency braking and emergency swerve manoeuvres, which is why national limits have been imposed on modifications.
Stability control, which is designed to prevent skids in corners and has led to a significant reduction in single-vehicle crashes, was seen as the biggest advancement in road safety since the seatbelt when it was introduced more than 20 years ago.
Authorities in the US – the world's biggest market for pick-ups – have less stringent rules regarding vehicle ride height and tyre size. As these images from previous SEMA auto shows demonstrate (above and below), modified utes in the US are also allowed to have tyres that protrude beyond the width of the body, which is illegal in Australia for safety reasons.