There is widespread confusion about what constitutes "non-essential travel" during the ongoing coronavirus lockdown period, after a young Victorian learner driver was fined for embarking on a driving lesson with her mother, only to have the fine withdrawn days later.
Hunter Reynolds, a 17-year-older learner driver from Victoria, made headlines when she was penalised $1652 by Victoria Police for taking a drive around Melbourne with her mother serving as supervising driver.
"We weren't planning on stopping anywhere, arriving anywhere, basically it was let's go and learn in these conditions and we'll go for a round trip," Hunter's mother, Sharee Reynolds, told A Current Affair.
The fine was later withdrawn, with Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton saying it was "legally issued" but citing community confusion around the restrictions as the reason for its withdrawal.
Commissioner Patton said if Miss Reynolds had been driving to complete an "essential activity", she would not have been fined.
"The Chief Health Officer has made it clear that undertaking driving practice in the current climate is not an essential activity, unless the learner driver is gaining driving practice in line with one of the four exemptions," Deputy Commissioner Patton said, according to the ABC.
"[These include] when driving to purchase food or supplies, or when travelling to work or education."
In an effort to contain the coronavirus outbreak in Australia, people have been urged to stay home unless travelling to and from work or for other designated "essential purposes", including buying food or medical supplies, obtaining medical care, travelling for education purposes, or travelling to provide care or for an emergency.
However, reasonable excuses for leaving the home appear to vary from state to state. Following news of the fine in Victoria, NSW Police took to its Facebook page to clarify that driving lessons were still regarded a "reasonable excuse" to leave the home in New South Wales.
"We consider that it would be a reasonable excuse for a person to leave their house to receive driving lessons (either from a driving instructor or a member of their family), given that this is a learning activity that cannot be done from home and is akin to the listed reasonable excuse of travelling to attend an educational institution where you cannot learn from home," NSW Police said.
Meanwhile, a representative for Tasmania Police told CarAdvice driving lessons were also still permitted to take place.
"Driver training is not currently prohibited from the restrictions put in place by the Tasmanian Government to help slow the spread of COVID-19 in the community and can therefore continue to operate lawfully," the representative said.
In South Australia, learner drivers are also permitted to practice, provided they're being supervised by a family member.
An SA Police representative said the restrictions in place in the state, "would not prevent two members of the same family group from being together in a motor vehicle for the purposes of a driving lesson".
"Naturally both people would still need to fulfil their obligations under the Australian Road Rules and the Road Traffic Act and Regulations," the spokesperson said.
The Western Australia Department of Transport said it was "currently prioritising candidates requiring a Practical Driving Assessment for essential work purposes, such as emergency services or freight tasks".
"In light of current advice and directions about reducing the spread of COVID-19 in our community, learners and supervisors are encouraged to assess their need to continue to practice driving at this time," a spokesperson for the Department said.
"If continuing, learners are encouraged to gain experience in a variety of driving conditions within their region, with a supervisor that lives in their household and has held their licence for at least four years (i.e. mum or dad). Learners undertaking professional lessons with an instructor can continue to do so."
Similarly, ACT Police said "learner drivers in the ACT are still permitted to go out for driving lessons, as learning to drive is classed as an education activity that cannot be done from home", adding that driving instructors were also still permitted to conduct lessons.
"Current ACT directions strongly discourage any unnecessary travel, so learner drivers and their supervising licensed drivers should consider health advice and social distancing measures when in the car," an ACT Police spokesperson said.
"This may include driving within ACT borders and only travelling with people from their household or one person from outside their household for shorter lessons than usual. Learner drivers can continue to drive with a driving instructor or supervisor for any of the ‘reasonable reasons’ for leaving the house as outlined by the ACT Government."
While Queensland Police did not respond to a request for comment, officers in the northern state recently issued fines of $1334 to 58 drivers attending a car rally in the suburb of Rochedale, penalising them for leaving their home for reasons outside the stipulated list of viable excuses.
CarAdvice has also approached Northern Territory Police for comment on the matter and is awaiting response.